2015 Garden in Review – Resolutions for 2016

As I sit here with my house slowly warming up from a busted furnace yesterday, I find myself missing working in my garden, feeling the warmth of the sun on my transparently pasty skin, and drinking porch beer(s).

With 2016 quickly approaching on this New Years Eve, I thought a little reflection on my gardening successes and failures of 2015 might do me some good (and keep my spirits up that seed starting is right around the corner!).

And… I thought I better post these pictures before I start chugging straight from the bottle of Prosecco… although entertaining, it would probably be an embarrassingly incomprehensible blog post.

So hold onto your hat…  never seen before raw garden footage is coming your way!

For the first time, I attempted to grow sweet potatoes from slips that I grew from organic sweet potatoes that I chopped in half.  I would say it was a somewhat successful experiment, but my harvest definitely left me with some lessons to learn…

I planted the slips in barrel planters and they seemed to thrive and produced impressive foliage.  Unfortunately there was one evening that it got extremely cold outside and the top foliage died instantly (sweet potatoes like it HOT HOT HOT).  I read that when the leaves and stems turn black, it is time to harvest the potatoes because they are no longer receiving nutrients and the rotten plant corpses could also seep down and rot the potatoes.  Trust me, I was panicked.

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Many of my sweet potatoes were really small and misshapen.  My conclusion is that there are three things that could have gone wrong:

  1. The barrels did not provide enough room for them to grow to a proper size and/or I planted too many slips in one barrel and they choked each other off.
  2. The sudden early cold snap killed them before they achieved their optimal size.
  3. I didn’t plant them early enough in the summer.


Trial and error is the name of the game in gardening.  I let the sweet potatoes cure in a closed cardboard box to heal any bruises and to sweeten them up and I only recently started eating them.  I roasted them simply with cayenne flavored olive oil and salt and pepper and they were delicious.  I also highly suggest this recipe for Smoky Sweet Potatoes.  It was particularly suited to my weirdly shaped spuds.

But who wants to dwell on areas for improvement??  How about my successes!  I grew GIGANTIC garlic cloves.  The cloves were literally the size of my palm (with no sacrifice to flavor whatsoever).  They just keep getting bigger and better every year!  I already planted some monster cloves from what I grew this year to hopefully produce huge bulbs next year yet again.  I believe this is my fourth or fifth year growing garlic from the same batch.  I am interested in growing Elephant Garlic for comparison which I think is comically BIG, but is more related to the onion family.  Growing abnormally large vegetables brings me so much joy.




As an area to work on… I did try cooking garlic scape stir fry and I gotta say I was not blown away.  The scapes were very, very mild tasting, almost too much so.  I think I will try a different recipe next year.



Ok.  Let’s talk tomatoes.  The only accurate word to describe my harvest is “shit-ton”.  I grew Al-Kuffa and Rutgers varieties. The rules of determinant tomato plant size apparently don’t apply to me because all of my tomato plants were well over four feet tall (these varieties should have only been 2 to 3 feet tall tops).  But, as with determinant, most of the tomatoes ripened at the same time.  Waaaaay too many… at the same time.  Salsas, various tomato sauces, salads, pastas, pizzas…  I put them to good use as best I could.  I also gave them away to anyone willing to take them.

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I was also happy with my pepper harvest, particularly my Polish Ostra-Cyklon.  I made a lot of salsa and queso and I also successfully fermented the last remaining hot peppers in my fermentation crock to be used for applications such as NACHOS.  Yum.




A cabbage plant that was given to me by a friendly neighbor was my complete gardening disaster for this year.  I planted it in a barrel planter, but soon noticed the leaves were being eaten.  Before I could do anything about it, it was as dead as a door nail.  It must have been some sort of cabbage worm infestation.  It was weird because my herb planter next to the cabbage planter was not infected at all and produced stunning basil and cilantro.




Also, my nemesis the onion, won again.  DAMN YOU ONION!


So I’ve been drooling over the 5 different seed catalogs that I received in the mail so far and I can’t wait to pick out my seeds for next year.  I have about a million yogurt cups to use for seed starting.  I keep toying with the idea of growing a groovy all-purple veggie garden.  Maybe even including purple brussel sprouts!

My gardening resolutions are to blog more consistently, grow veggies that I have never grown before, try more companion planting, and learn to can and/or ferment more vegetables for long-term storage.  I have a genuine root cellar in my 100+ year old house, so why not put it to good use for the zombie apocalypse?!  I hope the gods of the internet hold me to these resolutions.

I also hope to continue passing on my love of gardening to my nieces.  And most importantly, I hope to continue sharing my bounty with those who mean so much to me.

Best wishes for great gardening in 2016.

I’m hot, stinky sweet…

From my leaf to my…root.  Ok, it needs a little work. 🙂

One tip that I did not share in my sweet potato growing blogs thus far is that you should definitely change the water that your sweet potatoes are sitting in more than once a month.  I did not do so and the water was so stinky and nasty.  Despite almost needing a gas mask, I did finally take the next step to potential sweet potato growing success!

I evaluated the sweet potatoes to see if I could directly transplant them or if I would have to get the slips to grow roots first.  My Jewel potato had some impressive slips, but unfortunately none of them had roots growing outside of the potato.


So with kitchen shears I cut the slips off where they met the potato.  Here is the potato post haircut.


I then needed to find small vessels where the stems would be emerged in water and the leaves could balance on top.  I sometimes like to indulge in adult beverages while gardening, and while doing so I came to the conclusion that these shot glasses would be a perfect fit for my slips and not look weird sitting on my windowsill at all.  My neighbors must think I’m such a lush and/or weird-o. 🙂


The slips balanced perfectly in the shot glasses!  And only after a day, little roots started growing out of the bottom of the stems.


My Japanese sweet potato had slips that had roots that formed on the outside of the potato.  Domo arigato Mr. Japanese Sweet Potato!  I actually took Japanese in college as an elective, but don’t be impressed, that’s the only phrase I remember.


I decided I would pluck those off and try to keep the roots intact as much as possible and directly sow them into my planter.


I bought a whiskey barrel (inspired) planter at Home Depot.  It has cedar in the wood, so it should resist rotting and last a very long time.  I filled it with a mixture of organic raised bed soil and compost.


It will probably be a permanent piece of my back porch decor because after filling it with dirt it probably weighs more than me.  Here are the Japanese slips planted in the barrel.


Since they are so small, I’m not sure if they are going to make it, but I thought it would be worth a shot to try and get a jump start on growing some taters.  I also don’t think they will appreciate the low temperature in the 40’s the next couple days here in Western PA.  I have not lost hope because Mr. Japanese Sweet Potato never ceases to amaze me.

BUT I’m thankful that I have shots (of jewel sweet potato slips) lined up!

Sweet Potato Slips Experiment Update

Doesn’t it always seem like once you completely start losing hope on something, it finally happens, like magic…

I honestly started questioning my judgement in conducting my sweet potato experiment and thought that my sweet potato chunks were going to soon start stanking up my kitchen and cause me to have a fruit fly problem.  This may certainly still happen, hehe, but NOW it will be worth it because I have slips to plant!

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I know, they look pretty funky (some may say gross), but I am totally pumped that the slips FINALLY starting popping out of the tops of the potatoes.  The roots formed first, probably within a week, and then as I suspected the slips started slowly growing out of the bumps on top of the potatoes.  The Jewel sweet potato has slips growing on both halves, but one half is certainly growing more vigorously than the other.  It is interesting because one half of my Japanese sweet potato (the longer slender one) is not really growing any roots or slips.  I think I may have read that cutting it a certain way may produce better results.  I think more research needs to be done on my part.  Oh well, you live and you learn.


Below I tried to take a close up picture of the roots because they definitely look like some sort of nasty centipede…


I am going to continue filling their pool with an inch of water and let the slips grow a bit bigger (and let the weather get warmer outside) before I figure out how to transplant them.  I am hoping to plant them in whiskey barrel planters.

In honor of May the 4th tomorrow, I have a new model to posing with my sweet potatoes:


What did the sweet potato say to Luke Skywalker?

“Luke, I yam your father.”

Growing Sweet Potatoes Experiment

Yeah, SCIENCE! (Breaking Bad reference)

Who doesn’t love a good science experiment?  Unfortunately, I don’t think I inherited a lot of my Dad’s scientific genes (he was a chemist), but I do get a kick out of trying new things that seem a bit weird and nerdy.  And ‘geek’ is now ‘chic’, so why not totally geek out?

With this experiment, I am trying to sprout sweet potatoes slips (tiny potato vines) from organic sweet potatoes that I bought at Whole Foods (Japanese & Jewel).

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And yes, I probably looked like a total weirdo in Whole Foods whipping out my phone and taking pictures of the sweet potato displays and foraging for the gangliest looking ones that might already have some little roots.  It’s a wonder they let me out in public.

With a little water, the sweet potato will start to grow roots out the bottom and then the tiny plant vines (slips) will grow out of the top of the potato.  Once planted in a garden or container, each slip should produce approximately 10 sweet potatoes.

The method to grow slips that seems very nerdy / Bill Nye-esque to me is sticking toothpicks in a sweet potato to keep it propped above water in a jar.  Even though I consider myself to be a garden geek, I found a lazier method that I thought I would try first.  I saw it posted on The Outlaw Garden at http://outlawgarden.com/2012/04/25/grow-your-own-sweet-potatoes/.

So as you can see below, I chopped my sweet potatoes in half and just stuck the chunks in a plastic takeout container.

Then I put the chunks cut side down and filled the container with about 1 inch of water.  And yes, my Japanese sweet potato is somewhat anatomically correct.


Below is a picture after a week.  The Jewel seems to be progressing with a few very small roots, but no slips have emerged up top.  I think the little bumps are where the slips will pop up.  The Japanese just seems to be chilling out and it might just end up in my composter.


Even though I’m not using the scientific method to make a groundbreaking discovery, I think Bill Nye the Science Guy would approve of my sweet potato growing experiment (although I guess he now supports GMO’s, so maybe not).  I also think my Dad would be proud.

I hope this experiment is as successful as my last garden-related experiment – ripening green tomatoes in a cardboard box using an apple.  The rotting apple naturally releases ethylene gas which ripens fruit (geek speak is so hot)!

Last year, I successfully grew “red, white & blue” (‘mercia!) potatoes.  Below is a picture of my potato patch that took over my entire raised bed garden.  Despite my obvious talent for growing potatoes, the thought of growing SWEET potatoes never even crossed my mind!  Unlike regular potatoes, you can’t just cut up a sweet potato and plant it in the ground as a tuber root veggie.  And unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are a hot summer crop.  Speaking of hot…

What do you call a stolen yam?

A hot potato.

Hehe, yes, I am garden geek.


Knowledge is power and geek is chic.