Tag Archives: pepper

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.

Sustainable Agriculture Research Stations

Continuing our summer road trip adventures! Besides seed growers, we also visited with many vegetable breeders and researchers on our trip.  Here we’ll profile four organic and sustainable agriculture research stations.

North Carolina State University’s Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC (near Asheville) is up in the hills, and cooler and wetter than most of NC – a great place for tomato disease trials! Here, Luping Qu, Reuben Travis, and Jeanine Davis discuss how to measure the effects of diseases for their trial notes.

There’s a lot going at the Mountain Research Station. Besides tomato trials, we got to see melon and squash trials, stevia trials, hops trials, organic broccoli variety trials, and much more – here’s an overview of this year’s research projects. And that’s just the Alternative Crops and Organics part of the farm – elsewhere on the farm, there’s a big broccoli varieties trial that’s part of a multi-state project that aims, among other things, to find broccoli varieties that hold up well in the heat of the Southeast.

A great practice at the Mountain Research Station farm (and at many other farms we visited) is to plant strips of flowers and herbs — usually on the edges of fields, but sometimes in the middle as well. These flowers and herbs help attract pollinators and bug predators.

Jeanine is the co-author of Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals. Her blog about the work at the Mountain Research Station is a great read. She’s a dedicated outreach person, and besides giving talks at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference, she regularly speaks at many conferences, including this year’s Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, September 11-12.

A quick stop was the University of Tennessee’s East Tennessee Research and Education Center in Knoxville. We were already visiting three different Tennessee farms that day, but there it was, only a couple miles away from Jonathan Buchanan’s Crooked Road Farm, so we dropped in for a quick look. Much of the farm’s work is giving young beginning farmers experience growing market crops, but we also got to see pepper trials, stevia trials, and – a great new vocabulary word – ratooning trials for kale and other crops in the brassica family. Ratooning is the practice of severely cutting back plants to stimulate new growth for later production. Okra growers in the Deep South often do it, so as to keep okra plants from getting 10 feet tall or more! Here’s a ratooned kale crop at the East TN Research and Education Center.


Next was the USDA’s U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina, with Clemson University’s Coastal Research and Education Center (CREC) nearby. Mark Farnham and Richard Fery with the USVL, and Brian Ward (at left below) with the CREC, showed us around. Here Mark talks about his work with breeding summer broccoli that holds up in July heat. Vegetable breeding is patient work – it can take planting out big fields of dozens of different breeding lines to find the best traits. This was July, swelteringly hot in Charleston, but there was some great looking broccoli out there – Mark’s hoping to release some of the breeding lines in the next few years!

Mark (at right below) is a brassicas guy; another recent project of his and Pat Wechter’s, Carolina Broadleaf mustard, is a leafy green bred for resistance to a bacterial leaf blight that’s become a problem in the Deep South. The USVL makes small amounts of breeding stock available to seed producers, so we’re hoping to line up some of our own seed growers for this one and have it in the SESE catalog in the next few years.

Richard Fery is emeritus plant geneticist at the USVL. He’s worked on many different seed crops over the years, mostly peppers and southern peas. He and his colleagues bred the nematode-resistant Carolina Wonder sweet pepper, Charleston Hot hot pepper, and many others, and he’s shared seedstock with us of southern peas releases that we’re hoping to be able to offer in the next few years.  He’s in the picture below at right, with colleague Floyd P. Maguire at left.

Across the street, Brian Ward gave us a fast tour of the organics section of Clemson’s Coastal Research and Education Center. Interesting projects included watermelon seedlings grafted onto gourd rootstock for greater disease resistance and vigor, a study of alternative pollinators for watermelons, rice trials, and seed increases for heirloom varieties of peanuts, southern peas, and corn. Alas, so much to see, but so little time!

Our final stop in the research portion of this trip was the Cherry Farm facility in Goldsboro, NC, for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), a collaboration between several NC ag departments. With 2,245 acres available, CEFS has a huge area to do all kinds of big studies, with long term studies of soil nutrition, tree alley crops, forest succession, animal husbandry, and many others. Research Operations Manager Andy Meier generously took time on a Sunday afternoon to show us around. CEFS helps provide the space and support for many NC ag folks and groups to do trials.  Their variety trials this year include wheat, barley, soybeans, and this southern peas trial with four repetitions. Again, so much to see, and so little time!

Next week we’ll spotlight two individuals who we visited who breed exciting new varieties.