Tuesday, 28 July 2015

37 shades of sweet potato

Back in the middle of June I planted out all my sweet potato starts out in the garden. I could surely have nursed some a bit longer but they were beginning to suffer indoors and, frankly, I thought that anything I planted after that day would have very little chance of producing tubers anyway. I was also struggling a bit with the logistics of it all and was eager to have them out there rather than being dependent on my undivided attention. I'll have to devise a better system for next year, though it might already help to have less varieties to sprout and keep happy...

I counted them after planting and ended up with a total of 37 varieties. In no particular order at all these were

12 commercial European/American/Asian varieties: 
T65, Nordic Purple, Nordic White, Nordic Orange, Burgundy, Bonita, Murasaki, Georgia Jet, Asian Yam 1, Asian Yam 2, Okinawa Purple, Garnet

25 (mostly) heirloom African varieties: 
Alira, Kalebe, Silek, Kanya, Uganda Orange 1, Uganda Orange 2, Kipapari, Mukekuru Tarya Bibiri, Tangara, Kitambe, Orphan, Rwabafurugi, Kitekyere, Mpame Hegia, Nyariowera, Kwezi Kume, Sula 1, Sula 2, Burundi, Bunduguza, Mushemeza, Kidodo, NASPOT 1, Bamuhachira, Magabari

A map of the 2015 batata garden
Some of these were not particularly viable though, and in some cases I just chucked a yet-unsprouted tuber in the ground, hoping that against all odds it would still do something. The amount of plants per cultivar varied a lot; of some I got 20+ plants, of others just one. This almost exclusively had to do with how fast the different tubers sprouted. For those that were very slow-going I ended up with few (or no) plants. By now some of these have quite definitely died, so I'm probably left with under 30 varieties.

Nordic Purple (left) and T65 (right)
It's been my luck of course that, exactly in the year I'm embarking on this grand sweet potato experiment, we're experiencing one of the coldest summers in decades here in Sweden. Except for a few tropical days in the beginning of July, the last few months have felt more like early autumn, with exceptionally windy, chilly and rainy weather. Predictly the sweet potatoes haven't been all too happy with this and growth is just a fraction of what it was last year at this point (though I was growing them under plastic then, so it's hard to compare). The optimist in me sees this as the perfect selection pressure and thinks that if any of these plants yields something this summer, it will reliably do so most years. My pessimist self on the other hand is quite convinced that I will end up with absolutely no sweet potatoes whatsoever. Either way I'm hoping that August will bring some direly needed sun for these:

Sula 1
Nordic Purple
If I would formulate my ambitions, they would consequently be quite modest (or at least I think so..). I would like to get some kind of tuber from at least 3 of these varieties, plus some seeds. If I would have to choose, then I suppose the latter would be the most important, since it would make possible the long, very, very long, process of breeding nordic-adapted varieties. For that to happen I will first need some more growth and some flowers though.. Indian summer, anyone?

Please, world, make it happen.

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