Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sweet Potatoes Recipes and Thanksgiving

Michele K. Koskinen

With Thanksgiving just a few days away everyone envisions their favorite part of the annual Thanksgiving meal. My two favorites are pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes. This was not always true. As a child growing up those orange potatoes were scorned. Out of the can, into the oven with marshmallows, or brown sugar and butter all the more to entice us to taste them. Yuck they are orange. 

Many people relagate sweet potatoes to Thanksgiving and fall dinner. Today after trying them numerous times as I matured I have come to enjoy this root vegetable all year long in a variety of ways. The nutritional benefits of this root vegetable are often touted with the big three being  Vit A, Potassium and Vitamin C.  It's versatility has made it a healthier alternative as a side dish or vegetarian entree. It can be baked, mashed, made into a casseroles (maybe with meringue), tarts and of course pie.  Adding honey, fruits, and just reducing the butter and sugar make the dish healthier for you. So if you are adventuresome try something different this year. Your children may actually like it.

Here are a few to try.

sweet-potato-appetizerKate Sears 

                         Sweet Potato Spread  www.health.com/health/recipe

    Meringue-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole    www.eatingwell.com/recipes

      Sweet Potato, Red Onion & Fontina Tart       www.eatingwell.com/

For the gardener that want to try growing sweet potatoes here is some information culled from a few resources.

What is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam? 

Sweet potatoes Ipomoea batatas are defined by wikipedia as   A dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the family Convolvulaceae. Its large, starchy, sweet-tasting, tuberous roots are a root vegetable. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens.

They should not be confused with Yams.     A yam is the common name for some plant species in the genus Dioscorea that form edible tubers. These are perennial herbaceous vines cultivated for the consumption of their starchy tubers in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Oceania. Wikipedia

  • Why the confusion? In the United States we tend to call all orange fleshy potatoes yams or sweet potatoes.This came about because the two names became interchangeable due to labeling requirements of the FDA. Most yellow or orange skinned potaotoes found today in the supermarket are sweet potoatoes. To find Yams you would need to find and international market. For more historic information  Difference between yams and sweet potatoes.
  • How do you grow and store sweet potatoes? 

    Growing sweet potatoes seems to be quite easy according to all of the directions I have found online and in my vegetable gardening books. As a child you may have sprouted sweet potatoes in a glass with toothpicks as a science project. You can still use this method to produce your slips and plant them but need to make sure your potatoes have not been treated for sprouting. Organic potatoes are not treated or you can purchase slips from a nursery or online.

    If you have a large garden you can plant them in rows with hills, or plant them in a container or the new bags with a trellis.

    From Organic Gardening grow guide. (http://www.organicgardening.com)
    In the garden, on a trellis, or in a container, sweet potatoes are a beautiful plant—delicious tubers in the fall are an added bonus to the lovely foliage and flowers.

    Sweet potatoes grow well in a sunny vegetable garden, but you can also grow them in other parts of your home landscape. Try them as a temporary groundcover or a trailing houseplant. In a patio planter, a sweet potato vine will form a beautiful foliage plant that you can harvest roots from in fall.

    Sweet potatoes will grow in poor soil, but roots may be deformed in heavy clay or long and stringy in sandy soil. To create the perfect environment, build long, wide, 10-inch-high ridges spaced 3 1/2 feet apart. (A 10-foot row will produce 8 to 10 pounds of potatoes.) Work in plenty of compost, avoiding nitrogen-rich fertilizers that produce lush vines and stunted tubes. In the North, cover the raised rows with black plastic to keep the soil warm and promote strong growth.

    It's best to plant root sprouts, called slips, which are available from nurseries and mail-order suppliers. Or you can grow your own, by saving a few roots from your previous crop or by buying untreated roots (store-bought sweet potatoes are often waxed to prevent sprouting). About six weeks before it's time to plant sweet potatoes outdoors in your area, place the roots in a box of moist sand, sawdust, or chopped leaves in a warm spot (75º to 80ºF). Shoots will sprout, and when they reach 6 to 9 inches long, cut them off the root. Remove and dispose of the bottom inch from each slip, as that portion sometimes harbors disease organisms.

    Sweet potatoes mature in 90 to 170 days and are extremely frost sensitive. Plant in full sun 3 to 4 weeks after the last frost when the soil has warmed. Make holes 6 inches deep and 12 inches apart. Bury slips up to the top leaves, press the soil down gently but firmly, and water well.

    If you're not using black plastic, mulch the vines 2 weeks after planting to smother weeds, conserve moisture, and keep the soil loose for root development. Occasionally lift longer vines to keep them from rooting at the joints, or they will put their energy into forming many undersized tubers at each rooted area rather than ripening the main crop at the base of the plant. Otherwise, handle plants as little as possible to prevent wounds that might be invaded by disease spores.

    If the weather is dry, provide 1 inch of water a week until 2 weeks before harvesting, then let the soil dry out a bit. Don't overwater, or the plants—which can withstand dry spells better than rainy ones—may rot.

    You can harvest as soon as leaves start to yellow, but the longer a crop is left in the ground, the higher the yield and vitamin content. Once frost blackens the vines, however, tubers can quickly rot.

    Use a spading fork to dig tubers on a sunny day when the soil is dry. Remember that tubers can grow a foot or more from the plant, and that any nicks on their tender skins will encourage spoilage. Dry tubers in the sun for several hours, then move them to a well-ventilated spot and keep at 85° to 90°F for 10 to 15 days. After they are cured, store at around 55ºF, with a humidity of 75 to 80 percent. Properly cured and stored sweet potatoes will keep for several months.

    For further reading:
    how-to-plant-and-grow-sweet-potatoes DIY

  • Thursday, November 14, 2013

    November check list.

    Michele K. Koskinen

    November Check List for zone 7

    Mulch over your vegetables beds for overwintering crops with straw.

    Put the leaves in your compost bin or mulch the leaves and use as mulch around your garden
    or in a handmade wrap for large potted plants.

    Plant the last of your spring bulbs. Try some in pots to bring inside to force.

    Cover the spinach, lettuce, and other cold hardy plants with a row cover to give them a few more weeks to grow

    If you haven't put out your bird feeder do so. Our feathered friends will be looking for food before we know it.

    Continue planting trees and shrubs.

    November Check list for zone 6

    Cut back perennials, finish cleaning out the beds.

     Mulch  over your vegetables beds for overwintering crops with straw.

    Put the leaves in your compost bin or mulch the leaves and use as mulch around your garden.

    Harvest the cool weather vegetables after the light frost.

    Plant the last of your spring bulbs. Try some in pots to bring inside to force in Januaryand February.

    Do not cut back perennials with seed heads or grasses. They are good for the birds and other garden creatures and for winter interest.

    Continue planting trees and shrubs.

    If you haven't put out your bird feeder do so. Our feathered friends will be looking for food before we know it.

    Thursday, November 7, 2013

    Food Forest in Fairmount Park Part 2

    Michele K. Koskinen

    In a previous blog  I reported on the orchard that was planted at the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park. This collaboration between the Department of Parks and Recreation, The Philadelphia Orchard Project and the Penn State Philadelphia Master Gardeners is an opportunity for the community to see growing a Food Forest in an urban environment. With thousands of visitors every year it is likely that people who have no knowledge of Food Forest will learn of the importance of these orchards in the overall sustainability of our forest and creating a food source for our communities.

    Phil Forsyth of the Orchard Project writes: 

    "Imagine a Philadelphia where every community regardless of location or wealth has access to fresh, healthy fruit grown right in the neighborhood. The Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) is working with partner groups across the city to transform neglected urban spaces into vibrant community orchards full of edible and useful plants. We welcome your help in remaking our city as a green and bountiful paradise for all."

    Joan S. Blaustein, Director
    Urban Forestry and Ecosystem Management Division, 
    Philadelphia Parks & Recreation states:

    "One of the first pilot projects to be implemented is the Agroforestry Edges, which by creating food forests,will enhance and expand edge conditions along forested areas to enhanced tree cover along wooded edges that promote woodland function, while supporting productive landscapes (nut or fruit harvest), community engagement and awareness. We selected the location at the Horticultural Center for a number of reasons:  it is a highly visible location where we can educate the public about permaculture and food forests, we have the active participation of the Penn State Master Gardeners 
    who will maintain the forest, and easy access. " 

    For more information on the Parkland Framework in Philadelphia  Parkland Forest Management
    or to see her entire background piece go to  Previous blog


    The plan for this site is to be completed over three planting events. The first event saw the orchard planted in October. In the spring the area will be sheetmulched around the trees and a wide variety of berry bushes will be planted.  In fall 2014, perennials and groundcovers will be added to complete the planting.  For more info about the food forest concept, see the Urban Eco-Orchards summary sheet below. 

    As with all of POP's plantings, the goal is to educate and expand access to healthy food in communities throughout the city.  The plant list was chosen to demonstrate a wide range of fruit that can be grown in Philadelphia. Perennials and groundcovers were also chosen for ecological value in attracting beneficial insects and building soil quality, as well as food, medicine, and beauty.

    So come out and see the addition to the Demonstration Gardens at the Horticulture Center. 
    Directions to Horticulture Center

    For additional information on POP or to volunteer visit their website at www.phillyorchards.org

    The Philadelphia Orchard Project is a non-profit that plants orchards in the city of Philadelphia that grow healthy food, green spaces, and community food security. 
    POP plants fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and useful and edible perennials in partnership with community groups across the city.  Since 2007, we’ve planted 34 orchards with a wide variety of partners including schools, churches, and community gardens.  POP provides orchard design assistance, plant materials, training, and long-term support in orchard care.  Our community partners maintain and harvest the orchards and distribute the produce within their community.  Together, we are building a permanent infrastructure for food-growing in the city and expanding the local food movement to neighborhoods that have thus far been excluded. 


    The Urban Eco-Orchards planted by the Philadelphia Orchard Project are examples of a style of planting called Edible Forest Gardening. The basic idea is to create a functioning, diverse ecology in the orchard that mimics that of a natural forest. By working with nature instead of against it, these orchards are healthy and productive with relatively less main- tenance required by their stewards. The concept of edible forest gardens developed in Permaculture, a movement of sus- tainable design that originated in Australia in the 1970’s. However, many native cultures across the world have tradi- tionally grown food in a similar manner.
    The Urban Eco-Orchard consists of far more than rows of fruit trees. Like a natural forest, many layers of plants grow in an Edible Forest Garden.
    Seven different levels have been identified:
    By planting a multi-layered orchard, positive relationships are created between plants (see multiple functions, below). All ecological niches are occupied, so there is less opportunity for weeds to invade. With yields from so many layers, overall production is increased. Yields can also be harvested from other layers in the short term before fruit and nut trees mature.
    In addition to a diversity in plant levels, the Urban Eco-Orchard features a diversity of plant choices within each level. For example, instead of just planting apples in the low tree level, the orchard might feature apples, pears, cherries, and more unusual choices like figs, persimmons, and serviceberries. If one crop fails in a particular year, this diversity en- sures that the orchard will still be productive. Pests are also often very plant specific, so a diverse orchard becomes a less attractive target.

    Urban Eco-Orchard plants often serve more than one of the following functions:

    FOOD: Fruit, nuts, culinary herbs, greens, mushrooms, edible flowers, roots, and shoots. Di- versity of production makes for a long season of harvest. Don’t forget value-added items like jam, juice, and cider!

    MEDICINE: Herbs, barks, mushrooms, etc. For teas, tinctures, extracts, and poultices. SOIL-

    BUILDING: Through a relationship with soil bacteria, certain plants (mostly in the legume family), actually pull nitrogen from the air and fix it into the ground, thus fertilizing themselves and the plants around them. Other plants are nutrient-accumulators with roots that pull essen- tial nutrients from deep in the soil and make them available to the plants around them. Fungi have recently been shown to have vital ecological functions in soil, protecting plants from dis- ease, transporting nutrients, and more.

    PEST CONTROL: Some flowering plants, especially those from the umbel and aster family, serve as a nectary, attracting beneficial insects that help control potential pest problems.
    Other plants make good habitat for beneficials to live and lay their eggs. Other strong aromatic plants, including many herbs an onion relatives, are good at confusing and repelling pests. OTHER: Woody plants can be harvested or coppiced for fuel and some yield valuable timber for construction or furniture-making. Trees and other orchard plants provide many environ- mental benefits, including absorbing carbon and other pollution, reducing stormwater runoff, and providing neighborhood cooling. Beauty in flowers, foliage, and fruit is another important function of Eco-Orchard plants.

    One of the most important aspects of creating a functioning orchard ecology is creating healthy, living soil. Worms, insects, fungi, bacteria, and many micro-organisms have vital roles in supporting happy, productive plants. There is actually a greater total mass of life below the surface than what is seen above. One technique for encouraging healthy, living soil is sheet- mulching, a particularly valuable approach for city lots with poor, weed-covered soil. The basic idea is to cover the surface with a layer of cardboard or newspaper topped with many layers of organic materials like fallen leaves, compost, and salt hay. The newspaper or cardboard serve to choke out existing weeds or grass, then decompose along with the other organic materials to provide abundant food and habitat for worms and other soil life.

    Recommended Forest Garden Books
    Creating a Forest Garden, Martin Crawford
    Edible Forest Gardens, Dave Jacke & Eric Toensmeier Gaia’s Garden, Toby Hemenway

    Recommended Orchard Books
    The Holistic Orchard, Michael Phillips
    Growing Fruit Naturally, Lee Reich
    The Pruning Book, Lee Reich
    The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect & Disease Control, Ellis & Bradley The Backyard Orchardist, Stella Otto

    The Backyard Berry Book, Stella Otto

    Recommended Eco-Orchard Plant Sources (Philadelphia & Mail Order)
    www.greensgrow.org                                  www.primexgardencenter.com 
    www.raintreenursery.com                           www.onegreenworld.com 
    www.fedcoseeds.com                                 www.usefulplants.org