I planted sweet potatoes for my family this summer when food prices climbed and climbed. I planted 96 vines and none of them died. They didn’t appear to be doing so hot, though and when the neighboring watermelon vines over-ran and intertwined with the sweet potato vines, I forgot about them. The summer here was cold by South Carolina standards and the melons were slow to flower and slower to fruit. I would stand on my side of the fence and gaze at the tangle thinking, “Rats. all that work, manure and sunshine and all I’ve got is green.”
The melons did eventually fruit and they were very good. When the melon vines died, the sweet potato vines were revealed and they were insipid looking. “Oh, well.”, I thought. The weather started turning cool about a week ago, and I was seeing trucks loaded with sweet potatoes up and down the road with huge sweet potatoes. I even considered buying some. “No.”, I argued with myself, “you eat what you grow, no matter how poor the harvest.” I would wait until the frost that would signal when it was safe to harvest the potatoes. One morning, it was very cold and there was a fragrance in the air that was not normally there and the goats were standing sentinel-like at the garden fence. There had to be SOMETHING there.
The pictures on the agricultural website had diagrammed the sweet potato as having a vine that ran along the top of the ground with a stem structure that went about 12″ down underground with 4 to 5 potatoes forming beneath that. With a total of 96 vines, the harvest would theoretically be 500 potatoes at most. I noticed something odd about the weed fabric as I investigated the rows where the vines had once been. Something was holding the weed fabric up and away from the ground. There were sweet potatoes growing on top of the ground that had heaved themselves out of the dirt and shoved the weed fabric up. 5 potatoes per vine? Try 30. After we portion out potatoes for friends and family, I hope our crisis ministry food bank will be ready for the surplus. Sweet potato pie all around.