Archive for January, 2014

Using Sweet Potato Sprouts for Starts

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
Sprouts on Sweet Potatoes

Sprouts on Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes store well, but they don’t keep forever.  Above are the last of our 2012 harvest.  These were dug up 15 months ago.  They will still be edible, but we need to use them up as soon as possible. They’ve begun to sprout and that’s a good thing.

Sweet Potato Sprouts

Sweet Potato Sprouts

For the last two years I’ve grown my sweet potatoes using sprouts like this, rather than starting new sprouts on a whole potato.  This method is much easier.  Vine cuttings would work nearly as well.

Sprouts Ready to Plant

Sprouts Ready to Plant

The sprouts can be broken off into small pieces, each of which becomes a plant start.

Sprout Potted Off

Sprout Potted Off

Sweet potato sprouts and vine cuttings root easily.  It takes no more than sticking them into damp soil or even a glass of water.  They will put out new root quickly.   Almost any part of a stem or piece of vine will root.  It doesn’t take much care to get it right.  Temperature is important, however.  Sweet potatoes like it warm.

Sprouts in the Flat

Sprouts in the Flat

I’ve got 42 starts in this flat.  I only plant 18 potatoes each year, so I should be in great shape for my own garden and have plenty to give away.  Once these little starts get established and start to put out some green, I’ll have to transplant them to much deeper boxes and spread them out.  They don’t like to be shallow rooted or crowded.

Sweet Potato Vine

Sweet Potato Vine

Here’s a live sweet potato plant that I started last fall.  It’s my back-up.   I can take small sections of vine and root them, if I need to.

As an aside, Geoff told me he bought some dried sweet potato stems at an Asian grocery store in Austin.  Dried sweet potato stems are used in several Korean side dishes and other Asian recipes.  I read online that fresh sweet potato stems are also used.  So we may soon be adding a whole new category of recipes to our sweet potato cookbook.



Planting Onions in Austin

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
Four by four section of garden bed planted with onion seedlings.

The 4″ by 4″ section of bed, after planting

Last weekend, my dad, Noel, visited me in Austin, so I put him to work helping me in the garden.  It was mid-January; that meant onion planting time.

To start your own onion seedlings indoors, you should do so 8-10 weeks prior to planting.  In Austin, that would have meant sowing them in October.  Since I hadn’t done that we first went to the Natural Gardener, where I picked up Southern Belle red, Bermuda white, and Texas 1015 yellow seedlings.  All three varieties are sweet onions.  I’ll usually grow at least one storage variety as well, but limited myself to the above selection this year.

I already had a 4′ by 4′ section of raised bed ready for planting.  I only had to rake it to create a smooth planting surface.  We used our BioMarker plant markers to create a spacing pattern of 5″ offset rows. You could just measure as you plant, but having the markers in place made the planting easy.

A garden bed full of BioMarkers spaced in offset rows.

We used the BioMarkers to mark 5″ offset spacing.

Then, one by one I pulled out the markers and used the CobraHead to open up a hole an inch to an inch and a half deep and dropped in the onion seedling.

CobraHead tool making a hole; onion seedling dropped into hole.

Using the CobraHead to open up a hole, then dropping in the onion seedling.

Next, I firmed the soil around each onion seedling with my hands.

Two hands pressing the soil around an onion seedling.

Firming in the onion seedling.

Finally, I watered them in with a seaweed solution to stimulate root growth. I’ll continue giving them a seaweed watering every two weeks. The onions should be ready to harvest when the tops fall over, in Austin around May.

Walnut Crusted Sweet Potato Cream Cheese Pie

Monday, January 20th, 2014
Sweet Potato Cream Cheese Pie

Sweet Potato Cream Cheese Pie

As soon as I saw this sweet potato cream cheese pie recipe in the local newspaper a few months back I knew I needed to try it.  But I didn’t want to use a traditional flour pie crust.  I knew that a nutty pie crust would balance the sweetness of the filling, so I held off on trying the recipe until I found a crust that was all nuts and no flour.  A few other changes were made too.  Maple syrup was substituted for sugar in the filling and the spices were increased for extra flavor.

After researching nutty pie crusts I found one with all nuts, and enough butter to bind everything together.  It has a little bit of sugar which enhances the flavor and probably fuses it all together, though you could probably leave the sugar out if you wanted to.  Here’s how to do it:

Walnut Pie Crust

Walnut Pie Crust

Walnut Crust:

1 and 1/2 cups ground walnuts (scant two cups ground in food processor)

3 T. melted butter

2 T. sugar

Combine all ingredients and press firmly into bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate.

Bake crust at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Cool.

Pouring Filling into Crust

Pouring Filling into Crust


8 oz cream cheese (I used Neufchatel)

1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 T. flour (or 1 T. arrowroot)

1 tsp. cinnamon (rounded)

½ tsp. ginger

½ tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. cloves

3 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 350F degrees.  Thoroughly mix all ingredients except eggs and vanilla.  Beat in eggs and vanilla and pour the mixture into the walnut crust.  Bake 40 minutes or until center is almost set.  Lower oven temperature to 325 so the crust doesn’t get too brown in the process and bake another 10 minutes.

Chill for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator before serving – overnight is best.  I do have to say it turned out scrumptiously delicious!

Easy Seed Inventory and Storage

Saturday, January 18th, 2014
Seed Storage and Printed Inventory

Seed Storage and Printed Inventory

This seed storage system is easy and inexpensive.  It uses readily available off-the shelf CD storage boxes and zip-lock sandwich bags.  It can be expanded as needed.  Instructions follow.

Prior to starting this system last year, I had my seeds mostly in a file folder box in zip lock bags, but the box was unwieldy, not large enough for all my seeds, and the file folders did not lend themselves to storage of really fat seed packets like corn, or home saved squash seeds.

The picture above shows all my seeds in four media storage containers along with an up-to-date printed inventory.

Rubbermaid 4487 Keepsake Box

Rubbermaid 4487 Keepsake Box

I’m using Rubbermaid 4487 Media Storage Boxes – designed for CD’s and photos, but perfect for my application.  They list for $14.99 each, but I got them on sale for about $7.00 each.  They are readily available through many sellers.

Logging Seed Inventory

Logging Seed Inventory

I did a complete inventory of all my seeds, putting this information into an Excel spreadsheet – plant type (flower, vegetable, herb), common plant name, variety, year of seed, source, and quantity.

Seeds In Zip Lock Bags

Seeds In Zip Lock Bags

I used sandwich sized zip-lock bags to store seed packets and any loose saved seed.

Alphabetical Seed Index

Alphabetical Seed Index

To alphabetize the stored seed I cut cardboard into 5 1/2” x 7 1/2” sheets.   Labeled with a black marker, they made for an easy to read separator.

This system makes it very easy for me to find seed.  The zip-lock bags provide reasonably good seed protection, and the boxes are easy to stack, store and handle.








Heavy Mulching to Defeat Bermuda Grass

Monday, January 6th, 2014

I’ve struggled to keep a corner of my garden free of Bermuda grass. The grass rhizomes keep sneaking under the drip irrigation tubes.   They infiltrate the garden bed and reduce vegetable production.  This year I decided to take that section of the garden bed out of production for the season and put it under a mulch to knock the grass back.

Raised garden bed with grasses moving in from lawn.

Bermuda and other grasses invading the garden bed.

I’ve also decided to divide my beds into 4′ x 4′ sections for planting and rotation purposes.  Since I have four 16′ beds and one 8′ bed, that gives me 18 different crop sections.

Garden pathway around raised bed covered with newspaper and logs.

Mulching the pathway with old newspapers. The newspaper will then be covered with pine straw or wood chips.

I’ve been saving old copies of our weekly newspaper for the last few months.  After removing the staples, I laid these on the garden pathway next to the grass filled section.

Four foot section of raised garden bed covered with weed barrier and logs

Weed barrier over four foot section of bed. The weed barrier will be removed to make way for a cover crop.

Then I covered the 4′ section of bed itself with a piece of weed barrier. I’m not using the weed barrier as a permanent solution to weeds.  It’s a temporary protector of the soil until I’m able to plant a crop, or in this case a cover crop.  Unlike my dad, Noel, in Wisconsin, I don’t have easy access to large quantities of leaves for mulching the garden.

Garden bed covered with weed barrier with pathways covered with pine straw

The newspaper in the pathway, now covered with pine straw.

Finally, I covered the newspaper in the pathway with pine straw.  In the past I have mulched the paths with just pine straw, but the Bermuda grass quickly grows through it. The newspaper should slow down the grass for a couple more months.

I’ve also extended the weed barrier over the next four foot sections. I’ve already prepared this section for onion planting, but they won’t be going into the ground until next week.  I can then remove the weed barrier, drop in the onions, and store the barrier for future re-use.

As the season progresses, I’ll plant the first section with a series of cover crop mixes to smother remaining grass rhizomes.