when laziness pays off
Tags: edible tubers, garden craving, garden surprise, Ipomoea batatas, Ipomoea batatas 'Black Heart', Ipomoea batatas 'Margarita', Ipomoea batatas tuber, June bugs, ornamental sweet potato, plants to attract June bugs, seed catalog obsession, sweet potato tuber, victory garden, winter garden chores
I’ve been visited by a strong upswing in garden cravings in the last two days.
Maybe it’s because we’re getting so much sun after all of the dreary Christmas rains.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been obsessing over the seed catalogs and printing up planting date charts for the Piedmont of South Carolina and drawing diagrams of my little Victory Garden plots over and over again. (I have four completed plans now, all completely different, and there’s no way I can fit even half of what I want to try. I seriously considered asking F. if we might expand our little garden significantly while it’s still winter and he won’t sweat to death wielding the shovel… but overcame the naughty urge while watching him doggedly working on his latest research paper.)
Maybe it’s just because I’ve reached that point in the season where I feel I spend far too much time indoors and a kind of low-level cabin fever sets in. Last night, I turned off the radiator in the bedroom, shut the door tight, and opened the window a touch, which annoyed F. very much. It was delightful to hear our owl again and to be able to fall asleep listening to the rustling of the wind and the creatures in the branches outside. I even slept better, in spite of awakening with my nose like an icicle.
Whatever the reason, today I just had to get outside and do something in the garden. Luckily I was lazy enough at season’s end that there’s plenty left to do, mostly composting dead plants and putting a thick layer of leaf mulch over the exposed earth, copying Mother Nature’s procedures — although I obviously ought to have done it when She did, back in November.
As I was pulling up the ornamental sweet potato vines, I got a little surprise. Both varieties had formed huge tubers in the soil. Ipomoea batatas ‘Black Heart’, which I yanked up first, had formed a large white tuber, nearly seven inches long and looking almost exactly like a baking potato. Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’ had formed two, fat, four-inch-long tubers and several little baby-tuber swellings on the roots, and all of them such a bright cranberry red color.
Now it happens that this wasn’t 100% unexpected. My sister had told me way back in October that when she pulled out her spent ornamental sweet potato plants, she’d found small sweet potatoes on the roots. (She is much more diligent and neat than I am and would never have waited until almost January to clean up spent plants.) She’d asked me at the time if they were edible, and I advised her to check the internet. I’d grown these vines many years in containers and never once seen tubers form.
Well, of course I took my own advice when I found these early this afternoon. And after reviewing several reliable sources (some more than others), it seems that the tubers are indeed edible. Yet because the plants were bred for beauty and not for taste, they’d probably be a bit bland and/or bitter.
Of course, the cook in me wants to rise to the challenge and immediately whispers, “I could probably disguise that.” Truth is, though, even if F. is a grad student, we’re not sufficiently bad off to make me want to try cooking a bland, bitter, starchy vegetable. Especially since one of my Christmas gifts to F. was a cookbook of his home country’s cuisine written for adventurous American cooks, accompanied by my promise to cook regularly out of it, or at least to try, and so I already have a wonderful new cooking challenge in front of me that could last years.
But my laziness paid off, even if we won’t be eating them. If you save the mature tubers, they can be planted in the spring to make new plants!
Duh. Why didn’t that occur to me right away?
So the ornamental sweet potato vines, which I’ve always treated as annuals previously and which work so well to attract June bugs away from my vegetables while still looking gorgeous, will not have to be purchased all over again this year.
I immediately knew which plant I wanted to use that money on instead. If only I could get F. to widen this one bed for me so I could fit it in…