Sweet Potato Bust 1

We love sweet potatoes. They’re delicious, ideally suited for growing in our climate, and naturally nutritious in the best sense of the word. They also keep remarkably well, so you can enjoy them straight through the winter. That’s why we planted so many at the start of the gardening season. Good thing we’re not dependent on our garden for our sustenance yet, because the sweet potatoes just got decimated.

You’ve heard me whine before about damage from deer in our garden. We’re particularly vulnerable, because Veg Hill is surrounded on 3 1/2 sides by dense woods, the kind that give deer total cover. They feel thoroughly comfortable coming right up to Veg Hill and (apparently) lingering until they have had their fill. And as most hunters know, deer are in a drastically overpopulated state that makes them desperate for food (not unlike humans, but that’s another story).

Sometime in July, we began seeing damage from deer, and in late July it happened. One week the sweet potato plants looked reasonably healthy; the next week all the leaves (and I do mean all the leaves) were gone. Just naked stalks where the sweet potatoes had been. We figured they were done for.

We got our hopes up in early September, because we saw the plants beginning to put on new leaves. We shouldn’t have; our first instincts were correct.

When the weather forecast called for a frost warning last week, Amanda and I decided that the time had come to see what sort of sweet potato harvest we had. Perhaps after we’ve been doing this for 15 years, we’ll be smart enough to tell from looking at the plants above ground how the tubers are doing below ground, but we’re nowhere near this point now. Harvesting sweet potatoes, at least for small scale farmers like us, is basically a matter of digging them up to see what you have.

And dig I did. Carefully, slowly, seeking above all to avoid damaging what I hoped was a rich bounty available below ground, I tentatively scratched the surface, then dug a little more, then still more, then finally full shovelfuls. What I discovered was a splendid if brutal lesson in horticulture: leaves matter.

The little video runs a little less than two minutes and speaks for itself. As Amanda states in the closing shot, we’ve learned first that we simply must find a way to keep the deer at bay. If we don’t, we’ll become so discouraged about growing our own food that we’ll just stop. We also have learned that we need many plants. If we plan to provide most of our food from Veg Hill — and we do — we’re going to need to find those core crops that work well and really plant them in quantity. We hope and expect that sweet potatoes will be one of those core crops; just not this year!

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