Subterranean sustenance

September 21, 2009 at 9:40 pm 1 comment

Last June I sang the praises of Stanley Hughes, who grows the finest organic sweet potatoes for miles around at his Pine Knot Farm in Hurdle Mills, N.C.  I got inspired and grew my own starter “slips” by sticking one of his giant Beauregards in a glass of water until it sprouted the familiar bright green vines. I snipped off four vines and stuck them in a 4 x 4 foot, 10-inch raised bed of loose, fertile soil and compost in my backyard.

Soon, the bed was overflowing with gorgeous leafy vines, so I sprouted a few more vines and stuck them in several nearby containers, and then planted some more slips in smaller pots on the patio (the latter just for ornamentation).  Just two sweet potatoes had yielded an abundant bed of potential food and about four ornamental pots with sprawling vines. I would have had even more, but I ran out of pots. This was just too easy, especially for this brown-thumb gardener.

I tucked my sweet, sweet-potato bed in deer netting and, except for watering, left it alone for the next three months.  As my bed and pots grew thicker and thicker with vines, I could hardly wait til mid September to peek at the subterranean crop.

My heart sank one morning last week when I discovered most of the leaves had been mowed down by the deer that cross our property each evening.  Somehow, they had nuzzled under the edge of the protective netting and had a feast. I feared my fall crop was lost. 

Then I remembered that most of the growing was taking place underground, out of sight. So maybe at this point in the growth cycle, my potatoes wouldn’t need their leaves anymore. I stuck my hand under the loose soil and, stunned, pulled out a perfectly shaped, amber-colored tater. And another, and another. I felt like a new parent; this often befuddled gardener is still awed by the miracle of  recycled growth.

My first sweet potato crop not only survived, it thrived, with little care from me and despite deer interference.  The gift of a perfect Stanley Hughes sweet potato purchased at my food co-op last summer, has just kept on giving.

Who says fall is the end of the growing season? My September-October sweet potato crop will see me through the winter and provide the source of next year’s sustenance.

Entry filed under: Sustainable Farming, Sustainable Food. Tags: , .

In our backyard Carrboro Market distributes 10,000 pounds of produce to food banks

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. My New Year’s Resolutions « sustainable grub  |  December 27, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    […] bed for tomatoes, squash and herbs. That went well, so I added another for sweet potatoes (see Subterranean Sustenance). Now I’m hooked. I’m ready to grow about six raised beds for peas, broccoli, lettuce, […]


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