All posts by Lisa Dermer

Sweet Potatoes, Potatoes, or Both? Decide for your garden.

ginseng sweet potato (slips for spring planting)dark red norland (seed potato)

Don’t be fooled: potatoes and sweet potatoes may share a name, but these two crops are grown very differently. We’ve broken down some of the differences to help you decide what to grow:

Plant Family: Genetically, potatoes and sweet potatoes have little in common. Potatoes hail from the Solanaceae family: their closest relatives are tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and other nightshades. Sweet Potatoes are most closely related to morning glory: they are in the family Convolvulaceae.

Crop Rotation: Sweet potatoes should be easy to fit into a crop rotation, while potatoes may be quite difficult. Potatoes should be rotated by 3-4 years with nightshade crops, while sweet potatoes only need to be rotated with themselves.

Plant Starts: While potatoes may be grown from any sprouting spud, it is best to start from disease-free Seed Potatoes. Sweet potatoes may be started at home by sprouting your own slips (green shoots off the mother root to be separated and planted), or the slips may be purchased.

Timing: We ship seed potatoes from March through April, directly from our grower’s farm. Our Virginia-grown sweet potato slips begin shipping in May.

Planting: Potatoes don’t mature well in hot weather, so it is best to start an early spring crop (we start ours in March) and grow a fall-maturing crop for best quality roots for winter storage (we start a second crop in June). It can be difficult to find seed potatoes after April, so order seed potatoes in the spring and store them in the refrigerator until planting time. We plant our heat-loving sweet potato slips in June.

Yields: Yields vary, but high-yielding sweet potato plants often produce as much as 5-10 pounds per plant. Potatoes may yield 3-5 pounds per plant, but this will depend on hilling: the new potatoes are produced above the seed potato, so new soil needs to be piled over the plants throughout the growing season.

Storage: Both sweet potatoes and potatoes can be stored for months without refrigeration. Light-sensitive potatoes must be stored in a cool, dark place (preferably 40-45°F). Sweet potatoes can be stored at room temperature so long as they are kept in the dark (otherwise they will start sprouting at temperatures above 70°F or so).

Check out our full Sweet Potato Growing Guide and Potato Cultural Notes.

Silly Garden Photo Contest

Send us your favorite silly garden photo for a chance to win a $30 gift certificate to

We will choose three winners to each receive a $30 gift certificate, plus we’ll publish your photos on our blog and Facebook.

Entries due by April 15, 2016. Please submit just one photo per entrant! Photo must be your own work. Email photos to

Grow a (Fast) Spring Salad Garden: The Quick Guide

Spring is the perfect time to start a “Salad Garden.” Start harvesting fast with our quick guide to cool-weather-loving, fast-growing salad crops for the spring garden.

buttercrunch lettuce

LETTUCE. In the summer and fall, starting lettuce seeds can be a struggle because the soil temperature is too high, but in early spring the seeds start readily, long before the soil has warmed enough for other crops. If summer heat comes on fast and early in your garden, you’ll want to choose heat-tolerant varieties, like sweet Jericho romaine, long-holding Cosmo romaine, the old-standard Oakleaf looseleaf, or the buttery butterheads Capitan and Buttercrunch (pictured). You can also choose fast-growing early varieties (any of the crisphead varieties, including favorites Loma and Sierra). If you still have a good window of cool-weather, there are several varieties with excellent flavor and texture that only grow well with cool spring weather: the heirloom Black-Seeded Simpson is highly recommended for early spring.

OTHER GREENS. Try these excellent spring salad greens in your lettuce mix, or leave out the lettuce altogether. Arugula, spinach, endive, highly nutritious cress (including the southern traditional creasy greens) and fast-growing, mild mustard greens like tatsoi and mizuna are all excellent choices for spring-growing.

danvers 126 carrots

CARROTS. Many carrot varieties have their best flavor in the spring. Even soil moisture makes spring the easiest season to grow high-quality, crack-free carrots. Blocky Danvers 126 (pictured), Scarlet Nantes, and the heirloom Chantenay Red Core are all forgiving of different soil types, although it’s still important to loosen your soil to a good depth. Carrot seed is slow to germinate, so be patient, sow very shallowly (a quarter inch down or simply rake and water in the seeds), and keep the soil moist but not damp until the seedlings emerge. Sow every 1-2 weeks and harvest on the small side for the most tender carrots for salads.

RADISHES. Choose fast-growing spring radishes and harvest small for the best flavor and texture. Sow small successions frequently (every 1-2 weeks) for the highest quality roots. Try Cherry Belle for classic red roots or Easter Egg for pretty mixed colors.

BEETS. Beets can take 2 weeks to germinate and they shouldn’t be transplanted, so sowing in the spring when the soil is cool and moist is your best bet for good germination and high-quality roots. Lutz Green Leaf (pictured) is an unusual heirloom that can be sown in the spring and harvested at any size, without becoming woody. Soak the seeds overnight, tamp them down well, and expect to thin the seedlings (each “seed” is a multi-seeded dried berry). For quick harvests, try fast-growing Early Wonder Tall Top (the tops make good salad greens when young) or rose-hued Chioggia.

PEAS. A classic early spring crop, snap peas are at their sweetest when eaten raw (and they’re also great for getting kids to eat raw vegetables). I prefer growing dwarf plants like Cascadia or Sugar Ann. They only need minimal support/trellising, and the fast growing plants tend to outpace any pest damage.

HERBS. For flavorful herbs to add to salads or salad dressings, sow cilantro, bunching onions (green onions), and parsley.