Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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Get to know your veggies--Sweet Potatoes

One potato, two potatoes, sweet potatoes, MORE!

I luv sweet taters (that’s how we say it in Tennessee).  There’s nothing better than a big ole’ tater baked to perfection, topped with real butter, and perched on my plate awaiting consumption!

Happy Hoer doesn’t have much experience growing sweet potatoes, but something went definitely right in the tater patch this season.  There are some “double headers” in there–that means one potato will feed two heads, and some of the hills have like 8 or 9 good sized potatoes in them.  It’s really exciting to go to the potato patch across the pasture, over the creek, and up the hill to see how many potatoes I’ll get in so many hills!

Sweet potatoes aren’t related to white potatoes at all; they are in the morning glory family, whereas white potatoes are in the nightshade family along with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.  If you can get past growing the slips (I’m going to attempt that next season) they are really pretty easy to grow, although they do take up quite a bit of space and quite a bit of time to mature. 

I always knew sweet potatoes were good and good for you, but I “googled” them for this blog and found out something amazing–sweet potatoes are ranked the number one most nutritious veggie by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. 

Here’s an excerpt from their info at foodreference.com:

CSPI ranked the sweet potato number one in nutrition of all vegetables. With a score of 184, the sweet potato outscored the next highest vegetable by more than 100 points. Points were given for content of dietary fiber, naturally occurring sugars and complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. Points were deducted for fat content (especially saturated fat), sodium, cholesterol, added refined sugars and caffeine. The higher the score, the more nutritious the food.

Sweet potato baked 184
Potato, baked 83
Spinach 76
Kale 55
Mixed Vegetables 52
Broccoli 52
Winter Squash, Baked 44
Brussels Sprouts 37
Cabbage, Raw 34
Green Peas 33
Carrot 30
Okra 30
Corn on the Cob 27
Tomato 27
Green Pepper 26
Cauliflower 25
Artichoke 24
Romaine Lettuce 24
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington D.C. copyright 1992

The reasons the sweet potato took first place? Dietary fiber, naturally occurring sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. The sweet potato received a score of 184; the vegetable ranked in second place was more than 100 points behind with a score of 83.

The numbers for the nutritional sweet potato speak for themselves: almost twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, 42 percent of the recommendation for vitamin C, four times the RDA for beta carotene, and, when eaten with the skin, sweet potatoes have more fiber than oatmeal. All these benefits with only about 130 to 160 calories!

One of my favorite ways to prepare sweet potatoes is to peel and slice them into about 1/4 inch slices, peel and slice an onion too, put them in a pan with a little oil.  This method is called “slaute” for those who can’t bring themselves to say the word “fry”.  It’s kind of like frying, but with not quite as much oil, but you use a little more oil than you do when you saute’.  Anyway, cook them until they start to caramelize and turn brown and that taste along with the caramelized onions is scrumptious!

It’s late summer and time for these colorful, underappreciated root crops to start appearing at farmer’s markets and in CSA baskets.  Enjoy the fruits of the season, and this time of the season, enjoy number one!


Sun, Moon, and not so traditional Stars


Has anyone else noticed that the angle of the sun is really changing?  After several days of cloud cover the sun came out bright and cheery yesterday afternoon, but the angle is definitely changing. The shadows around the gardens are getting longer, and fall is my very favorite time of year so this is exciting to me!   The glass prisms in the south gable-end windows of the house are making rainbows in the livingroom again.  This only happens when the sun is at it's "not-the-middle-of-the-summer" angle.


I've read all my life about planting "by the moon", in a nutshell that would be above ground crops when the moon is getting full and below ground crops as the moon is going back down.  I've tried planting by the moon, but it's just too darn dark!


So you're thinking okay sun, moon, what about the stars?  This year a friend shared seed for an okra called "Star of David".  Around here, folks are accustomed to "Clemson Spineless" okra which is harvested around 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches long, and it's about 1/2 to 3/4 inches in diameter.  Any bigger than that and it's tough.  Star of David is about the same length, but gets much larger around, about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. 

A trip to the farmer's market revealed that people just don't believe you when you tell them that okra that big is still tender!  It's amazing how people get trapped in their little vegetable worlds and are afraid to try new things.   It's one of those vegetables that was kind of fun to try, but I won't waste my time on it again. 


Another twist on a traditional veggie that is being grown on the farm this year is "Fooled You" jalapenos.  I love jalapenos and the heat, but I know a lot of folks don't like or can't take the heat, so I just knew these would be a big hit.  Well, a trip to the farmer's market showed me that the folks who like jalapeno peppers like the heat so they didn't want any jalapenos that weren't hot, and the folks who don't like the heat don't know how delicious a jalapeno pepper really is, and they didn't want any, and frankly, they are afraid to eat something that looks just like its fiery cousin.  I will say that the CSA members were brave though, because they've given good reviews on the fooled you peppers--they make great salsa, are wonderful stuffed with cheese and baked, or just chopped up in a salad or stir fry.  It's one of those vegetables that I will probably grow again next year, just not as many plants. 

One more twist on a traditional crop is a single serving watermelon.  I always hate to cut a huge watermelon because it takes up an entire shelf in the fridge and by the time it's all gone I'm sick of it.  While perusing seed catalogs in the dead of winter (like going to the grocery store when you're hungry) I came across seeds for a single serve watermelon.  Well, they grew pretty good, but the drought held most of them back to softball size and they were full of seeds, so that's not something that will get space in the veggie gardens next year.  It's sure fun trying new things though!


The many faces of weeding

I'm not exactly sure how much of a gardener's time is spent weeding, but I think it's a large percentage of the time spent in the garden.  This year, in the veggie gardens, I used leaves as mulch and it is working wonders!  Sure, there are places where the crabgrass is attempting to take over and I have to pull a weed or three now and then, but percentage of time in the garden spent weeding?---I'd say less than 10%.  Another big perk is that as the leaves rot away they are feeding the soil, which has a large percentage of clay in it anyway. 

The flower beds around the house are another story.  Last fall and winter were spent working on house things--cabinets, floors, and a couple of landscape beds around the house.  The one in the front got more attention than the side garden, and I was able to get most of the plants in that I wanted to, and spread a layer of leaves before growing season hit.  I've enjoyed watching the bed come alive with hummingbirds on the coral honeysuckle, columbine,  and bee balm, hummingbird moths and a myriad of butterflies and goldfinches on the anise hyssop, and butterflies galore on the purple coneflower, black-eyed susans and coreopsis.  Also, it's one of those beds that has gotten so full, that weeds don't take over and aren't really so noticeable.   As a matter of fact, a HUGE clump of millet came up on its own on the corner and the goldfinches and Indigo Buntings have been wearing it out!

The side garden is another story.  It's a sort of a rock garden in that I used a bunch of big flagstones to cover areas and left cracks and spaces between them for plants.  I did get a few Black Eyed Susans and a few native shrubs in before garden season hit, but no mulch.   The weeds stayed pretty low as long as it was hot and dry out,


 but we got a few showers, and today, after a few days of regular showers, I noticed the beginnings of a forest--a ragweed forest!   Ragweed can get REALLY tall, like 8 feet plus.  Crab grass nicely covers the rest of the ground in this ragweed forest.  I've always heard that "Mother Nature" abhors bare ground.   Being a CSA farmer consumes all daylight hours during the summer, so when garden season hit, the "pretty beds" were "pretty much" on their own. 

Today I couldn't stand it any more.  It's too wet to work in the veggie gardens, so I went to the shop, picked up my trusty loppers and cut all the ragweed to ground level.  Hey, at least it isn't hampering my vision any more, and I did catch it before it set seed.   One can actually see across the bed now. 

I won't say that using loppers is the most efficient way to weed, but it will at least keep the bed down to a "dull roar" until it reaches a higher priority on my list.

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