Friday, November 03, 2006

Sweet Potatoes

One of grandma Edith (Skinner) Stutler's crops was white sweet potatoes. It seems there's a certain kind of sweet potato that folks grow in central West Virginia that you can't find in the Detroit area. That isn't unusual. In family farming, seeds (and in this case sprouts) for spring planting are taken from last fall's harvest. They are not necessarily the varieties Burpee chooses to market. Grandma grew varieties of vegetables that are now coming back on the market as "heirloom" varieties; her low acid yellow and orange tomatoes, for example.

Bill Beckner picks up a winter's worth of local sweet potatoes at a Weston fruit & vegetable market every fall. Another of the Detroit area cousins has them shipped to his home each fall.

Bill tells how helping our grandmother with the sweet potato planting was a rite of spring that he remembers fondly. Sweet potatoes are planted differently from most crops in that its the green sprouts rather than seeds or eyes that are planted. The kids are sent into the newly greening brambles and woods to find branches and twigs to use to shelter these tender little plants from the elements until their root systems get established. Don't you know grandma must have done the same thing as a kid?

Wikipedia makes it clear why sweet potatoes would be a part of a West Virginian family garden. "Sweet potatoes are often considered a small farmer's crop. They grow well in many farming conditions and have few natural enemies, pesticides are rarely needed. They can be grown in poor soils with little fertilizer. . . Because the rapidly growing vines shade out weeds little weeding is needed, allowing farmers to devote time to other crops."

At the top left is a photo of sweet potato vines.
The photo of sweet potatoes with different colored skins and flesh was taken from the Internet to demonstrate the variety that is available even in commercial sweet potatoes.
To the left is a photo of our grandmother, Edith (Skinner) Stutler.
To the right is a photo of grandpa Bill Beckner with another variety of home grown sweet potato.

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