Garden, Plant, Cook!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fall Garden Preparation and Sweet Potatoes - What's Not To Love!

Dear Folks,

Got back from our vacation and shaking the cobwebs out of my brain.  Got back to find my sweet potatoes doing great - more on that below.

First up:  Fall Planting and Preparation.

The desert gardener has learned the great secret non-desert dwellers do not know - we can grow almost any edible, despite our summer heat, and fall is the gateway season to begin, enhance, add to and learn about gardening successfully in the desert.

We have 330+ frost free days in the valley and that means we can grow almost year round.

We tend to think of Fall as our "spring" because so many of the perennials are planted October through February for maximum success and longevity.


If you plant at the right time of year for the variety you do not usually have to do things like chose shady spots or arrange for covers on the plants for either sun or frost protection.

Many beloved edibles like tomatoes and basil are really tender perennials here in the desert which means they can last several years.  As tender perennials they produce most and thrive in the hot sunny days of Spring through Fall and then decline somewhat in the winter.  If we do not get hard freezes (like we had this past winter) the plants will begin to generate new growth in the spring when the soil and air warm up.

Below is a list of plants / seeds I recommend for planting in September.  You will note that tomatoes and basil are NOT on the list.  You can get some production from them before first frost (typically about November 17th) but then they will stop production in the case of tomatoes and they will not smell or taste good in the case of basil.

Seasonal means BEST production and taste, so keep seasonal in mind when you are shopping for additions to your edible garden.

September Planting

Anise;  Beans;  Beets;  Bok Choy;  Broccoli;  Brussels Sprouts;  Cabbage;  Calendula (Calendula Officinalis);  Caraway;  Carrots;  Cauliflower;  Celery;  Chard ;  Chervil;  Cilantro;  Cornflower/bachelor Buttons (Centaurea Cyanus);  Cucumbers;  Dill;  Endive;  Fennel, Leaf;  Green Onions;  Greens;  Kale;  Kohlrabi;  Leeks;  Lettuce;  Marigold;  Mustard;  Nasturtium;  Ornamental Cabbage/Kale (Brassica Oleracea);  Parsley;  Peas;  Radishes;  Scented Geranium;  Snapdragon (Antirrhinum Majus);  Spinach;  Sweet William Aka Pinks (Dianthus Barbatus);  Turnips

All of the above plants are edible including the flowers.

If you have not done so, prepare you beds by fluffing with amendments to a depth of 12-18 inches.  Do not use fresh manure as you will not have success if you plant immediately - the fresh is too "hot" and will burn the plants.

Sweet Potatoes

I have been experimenting with growing sweet potatoes for several years now and recently got some heirloom varieties:  a purple and a deep orange (Barberman) - I planted them in large pots on July 10th and they will take up to 120 days to harvest (mostly determined by size and my patience to try them :-)

Harvest is one of the great advantages we have here growing sweet potatoes, because cold is the enemy of them.  The picture taken this morning shows 37 days worth of vine growth from nothing.  That is a sweet potato for you - they love to grow in the right conditions.

So why sweet potatoes?  I like sweet potatoes and have grown more fond of them over the last several years as I both experimented with different ways to cook them and learned more about how nutritious they are and that the entire plant is edible !!!

When I started experimenting with growing them I talked to Deane about cooking ideas and he did not think he would like them frequently as his memory of them was the overly sweet marshmallow sweet potato casserole.  So I began with roasting them, whipping them like regular potatoes and adding them to stir fries and making baked 'fries.'  He decided they were really good after all :-)

I have been talking to and reading about the edible leaves and we had our first taste test of the fresh leaves yesterday.  Just a taste so I could decide how I want to prepare them.  Evidence of domestication of sweet potatoes has been dated 1000 AD.  Many Asian cultures make ready use of the leaves and tender stems steaming them like spinach.

Our taste test yesterday was really good.  A hardy first taste finishing up with nutty.  I can't wait to try several ways including in a salad.

Nutritious, Delicious and Easy To Grow:

Growing:  The nice thing about both regular potatoes and sweet potatoes is they grow seasonally opposite of each other, so you can have a single large bed for growing them:  Regular potatoes planted November - January 1st and harvested in April/May and sweet potatoes planted May/July and harvested no later than November.  Both require fluffy and amended soil.  Here is the limitation and why I chose to put the sweets in pots.  They are almost invasive if they are happy and so far we usually have REALLY happy plants in the garden.  Since I am experimenting with 2 heirloom varieties I also want to keep them separated so I can track growth habits and needs.

The plants grow from 'slips' a kind of eye where you get miniature plants growing from the older tubers.  This is different from the regular potatoes which put out roots from the eyes.

Nursery growers who specialize in sweet potatoes harvest the slips and ship them anywhere from May through mid-summer depending on when their sweets grow their slips.  Some like the purple are more difficult to get to grow - one of the reasons I wanted to try them, they are rarer.


The sweet potato foliage is edible because it is NOT from the solano family (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and potatoes).

As I try recipes for the leaves I will post them later on.  I mentioned several way to cook the tubers above.  Basically any thing you use a regular russet or new potato for, you can use a sweet potato as a substitute or addition.  As they are naturally sweet, they caramelize well in high heat like on the grill or in the oven.  A little cinnamon and chili powder are great spice options for roasted chunks or fries.

A link to check out:

Be sure to check out Lola's Kamote Salad Recipe :-)

Nutrient Dense:

So about the nutrition.  Sweet potatoes could be called a super food.  The dark the flesh the more nutrient dense in terms of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  The purple have more than the orange variety.

Some Info:

1 cup of baked with skin on (values do not include skin - but I eat mine)
No Salt

Calories 180
Protein 4.2 grams
Fiber 6.6 grams

Some mineral references

Potassium 950 mg.
Calcium 76 mg

Some vitamin references

Vitamin C  39.2 mg
Beta Carotene  23 mg
Vitamin A IU   38436

Edible Sweet potato leaves: 1 cup steamed without salt has a mere 22 calories and 305 mg potassium and 586 IU of Vitamin A along with lesser amounts of protein, fiber and other vitamins and minerals.

Nutrition information is from:

One more informative site about sweet potatoes is the Extension Service in Hawaii where they grow a lot of sweet potatoes.

That's all for now, folks.  Have a great day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady