Sunday, 7 September 2014

A sweet Swedish summer

Different varieties of sweet potato mingling
I have recently come to terms with my obsessive (if rather uninformed) pursuits in gardening, especially with respect to growing the more unusual, the not-so-adapted and the plain impossible here in the deep south of Sweden. Since I see no imminent end to this rather newfound passion of mine I figured I might as well make an attempt to systematize my efforts and along the way share some of my endeavors with anyone out there who might, just maybe, be interested. Hence the rationale for starting this ‘weblog’, I guess it’s as good as any.

While my ambitions for next year are great, the unusual, not-so-adapted and plain impossible this year mostly consists of a second-year attempt to grow sweet potatoes. I am tracking down and trying different cultivars in the hope of finding one or more that consistently produce reliably outside a greenhouse here and that happens to be delicious as well. Last year’s attempt produced a rather meager crop with the odd massive tuber here and there, but I had a late start and a lot of other excuses as well.  

This used to be two separate rows...
This year I’m growing 7 (or maybe more - I obviously have a lot to learn when it comes to botanical bookkeeping) different varieties. I have some Georgia Jet and T65, two early-maturing varieties kindly sent to me by Frank Van Keirsbilck. These are commonly grown in more temperate climates and should be able to produce quite well here. They got off to a bit of a late start this year though, so I’m not quite expecting a bumper harvest, but as long as I get enough tubers to produce my own slips next year I’ll be one happy man indeed. The rest is a bunch of unknown varieties that I collected from tubers in different shops here and there: 1 variety with purple skin/purple flesh, 1 purple skin/white flesh, 1 white flesh/white skin, and at least 2 different orange fleshed varieties. People who know me will readily affirm that I have an uncanny fascination for ipomoea batatas, so thinking about the day not so long from now when I will finally be able to lift all these beautiful specimens and see what they have been up to the whole summer makes me very excited indeed…
No seeds, but very pretty!
It has been pretty amazing sweet potato weather here this summer, with record-braking 30 degree temperatures, so I feel like I’m entitled to nothing short of an amazing harvest this year (uhum…). I planted most of the plants on a ridge covered with plastic mulch, and, in a somewhat ill-controlled experiment that included me forgetting to use the same varieties for both rows, then constructed a polytunnel over half of them and used a floating row cover over the other half, which I lifted fairly late in the season (end of July-ish), once the plants started to bulge out of the space they had been allocated. The polytunnel I left in place until late August, when I started to fear that the lack of space/increased rains would create rot on the vines. I also planted some latecomers, including the T65 and the Georgia Jet, in a separate patch without any mulch (I am, after all, looking for varieties that grow without too much pampering). If the foliage is anything to go by (and I know that it’s not), then the plants are doing great so far, with plenty of healthy growth. Two of the unknown varieties started to flower in the height of summer, and while I will probably have to store away my ambition of getting any seed for now, I have at least marked them as potential seed-producing contenders in some undefined future. All of the plants that flowered are in the space that had the row cover, so now I’m wondering if that might at all have played any role in inducing flowering. If anyone has any more informed theories about this, I’m all ears.