Sweet Fall Favorite

What vegetable could be more iconic for fall than the sweet potato? 

"Some people call these vegetables yams. Other people call these vegetables yams. Other people call them sweet potatoes. Both are right," Said the Lousiana Sweet Potato Commission. Sweet potatoes make an excellent fall harvest. This versatile tuber is the ideal vegetable for the Houston area because it is easy to plant, low maintenance for lazy gardners during hte hot summer months and a powerhouse of nutrition. 

The sweet potato is a tropical vegetable native to South America therefore thrives in Houston's relentless heat of late summer. They are planted by slips, whcih are the cut and rooted vines of sweet potato. 

Rows 'a Slips

When planted in May and June, You'll find them over growing their beds come fall. They are a school garden favorite! These tubers prefer a sandy loam soil so the addition of sand and a little compost to your garden ed will increase the size and numbers of your harvest. If the soil is too nutrient reich,the tubers may stay small and stringy. They will tolerat a heavier, though still friable soil underneath the lighter mix. 

Sweet potatoes form a thick-ground cover and inhibit nutgrass and weeds, and be sure to control weeds before the sweet potatoes have covered the bed completely. They mature 100-140 days from planting. 

Photo avove: A school garden after summer.  The sweet potato vines are on the right. They grow into a lovely ground cover. Our tomaoes which were thriving in May and June are now kaput and the bermuda completely took over!

Harvest before temperatures dip below 50 degrees. You can check for readiness much likne an archeological dig by excavating gently without disturbing or nicking the roots. IF they are the desired size, then they are ready for harvest. 

Sweet potatoes are rated as the No.1 vegetabel in nutrition, beating out spinach and broccoli in nutrition comparisons accourdint to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Our favorite school garden recipe is to simply cut, spray a bit of olive oil and grill on a portable plug in grill. Then, add a touch of salt and serve. 

Grow sustainable healthy communities with us by enjoying locally grown sweet potatoes throught the fall and winter. They can be found at our Urban Harvest Farmers Market August through February.

Summer Soil Revitalization

Many of us neglect our gardens during the heat of summer months. Either we leave for vacation or we find the allure of gardening insufficient under the intense heat of a Houston summer.

Fortunately, the fall gardening season is upon us and the need to prepare our soils is here. Over the summer our soils become drier due to the intense heat, insufficient rain or lack of watering. When garden soils become dry the microbial activity of soil decreases. Just like most living things, microbes require a certain amount of water and organic matter. Ideally, you want to have an established population of beneficial organisms in your soil before planting. These organisms improve soil structure and soil fertility.

Below are four things you can do to improve your microbial activity and prepare your soil for optimal growing conditions.

1. Fertilize your beds with a balanced organic fertilizer. There are several you can get locally. MicroLife, a product of San Jacinto Environmental Supplies, is an example of a good balanced organic fertilizer that you can find at local nurseries. Be sure to follow the application rates for bed preparation listed on the back of the bag.

2. After you fertilize, add organic matter to beds that look low or appear pale and sandy. If you are good about seasonally adding mulch to your beds then you can skip this step. Screen any finished compost from the bottom of your compost bin or purchase high quality compost. You want to add about two inches to most beds.

3. Mulch all of your beds about two to three inches high. The mulch will help retain soil moisture, regulate soil temperatures and when they break down; they add organic matter to your soils. Alfalfa hay is an excellent product for your vegetable beds. Although they come in bales like coastal hay (a grass), alfalfa hay is actually a legume and will provide more nutrients to your soil.

4. Finally, start watering your beds thoroughly. It seems odd to water an empty bed but when it comes to planting seeds or adding transplants you will see better results with beds that have been “revived” several days before planting.