Saturday, 16 May 2015

An old woman can't eat two

A brief update on the sweet potatoes. I've got plenty of slips [basically tuber sprouts that one pulls off and then replants] ready to be planted out, but the potatoes and me are all waiting for the weather to turn a bit more friendly. It's been 12 degrees here, rainy and windy - very much the complete opposite of sweet potato weather - and the slips I condemned to my balcony for 'hardening off' are just sitting there with wilted leafs looking miserable. Nevertheless I'm gonna have a go at it pretty soon, I will have more slips than I will be able to use anyway so planting some out a bit early seems like a good way to test their adaptive capacities..

Sprouting in progress
Meanwhile I've made a list of the varieties that I have and that seem viable. Probably the number will change (hopefully in the upward direction) but so far it's 26 different varieties. Most of the names that I got are in different local African languages, and it's really quite a pity that I don't know the translation for all of them, seeing how original some of these names are. My favourite must be 'mukekuru tarya bibiri', literally meaning 'an old woman can't eat two', a name holding out the promise of fast-maturing tubers with corpulent qualities. Another good one is 'Orphan', denoting its alleged ability to feed large families. Here's the full list (with reservations for the spelling on some of these...):

Nordic Purple - offspring from my own garden, unknown original variety, purple skin and purple flesh, produced respectable tubers last year.
Nordic Orange - offspring from my own garden, unknown original variety, red skin and cream-coloured flesh. This one also produced some respectable tubers but got pretty devestated by the voles.
Nordic White - offspring from my own garden, sourced this in the US, maybe O'Henry? This one actually didn't do very well, either the voles got all the big tubers or I only managed to get a few small ones.
T65 - only variety that produced a respectable tuber without ground mulch last year, probably one of the most promising for my climate. Red skin, pale cream-coloured flesh.
Georgia Jet - I didn't get any tubers from this last year, but I have two cuttings that seem to be hanging in there so hopefully I can give them a another try.
Orphan - white skinned, allegedly named like this because it's a prolific cropper that will feed large families
Kitekyere - white skinned, long and thin tubers
Sula - red skinned
Bamuhachira - red-purple skin, with very dark purple sprouts
NASPOT I - improved African variety, light brownish skin and very white flesh that is extremely dry. This reminded me more of cassava than sweet potato when I tried it. Supposedly a good variety for processing.
Orange-fleshed I - 
Orange-fleshed II - light brownish skin
Bunduguza - white skinned variety
Tangara - copper skin
Kwezi-Kume - light purple skin
Kipapari - light brownish skin
Kitemere - white skin
Kalebe - copper skin
Mushemeza - Highland variety, grows at or above 2000m
Rwababurugi - Highland variety, grows at or above 2000m
Mukekuru Tarya Bibiri - 'an old woman can't eat two', according to the person I received this from this one should mature in 1 month, which is hard to believe but we'll see! Also a highland variety.
'Asian Yam' - I got this from a US supermarket, no idea what it is..

Different leaf colours and shapes on 4 sweet potato varieties
In contrast to the varieties available in the US/Europe, most African sweet potatoes have white to pale yellow flesh and a very high dry matter content. Current sweet potato breeding efforts in many African countries concentrate on producing orange-fleshed varieties because these have much higher beta-carotene levels (a dietary precursor for vitamin A) than native white/yellow-fleshed varieties. American orange-fleshed varieties are regarded poorly by African farmers because people tend to prefer potatoes with a higher starch content, and from what I've read there seems to be some kind of trade-off between beta-carotene content and dry matter composition. I will be growing some traditional US orange sweet potatoes and some of the improved orange African ones, but most of the varieties here are the traditional ones with white and yellow flesh and all kinds of different skin colours.

Meet the last of my organic aphid control crew

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