The Garden Patch: Holidays arrive with longing for spring gardens

121214-tgp-sweet-potatoWell, today we’re going to tackle a couple of questions frequently asked relating to gardening and the “can I do this or that” thinking mode. Let’s start off with a frequently asked question about …

Sweet Potatoes

Can I grow ‘em? Yep! How? You can grow ‘em! This old gardener does almost every season! BUT – you gotta have lotsa room and a long, hot summer. Buy slips (young, rooted plants) from a reliable source to avoid transmission of diseases and set them out 18 inches apart and 4 feet between rows in the light soil they prefer.

No other preparation than for your other vegetables is required. They prefer a sandy soil without a hard subsoil which would keep the roots from reaching down to moisture.

Trim the vines? NO! Injury to the vines will cause a loss of nourishment to the potatoes. If the vines get too large, it’s better to loosen them from the soil where they root at the joints.

Sweet potatoes are by nature a tropical plant, but can be grown in this area because our summers are warm and free of frost for at least five months. Because of the spreading effect of the vines, the culture is more for the field than the garden.

Haven’t grown sweet ‘tators before. It’s not rocket science! Buy the slips (or plants) – don’t try to start them from scratch on your own. This way, you save yourself time and headaches and have a much better chance at a successful crop!

To harvest sweet potatoes you gotta’ dig ‘em! How do you do this without damaging or breaking the potatoes? This is a problem that has never been solved because the tubers are so VERY tender. There is nothing to do but exercise great care – start digging a little way off from the plant and approach from the side instead of the top. Easy!

Sweet potato tops survive until cold weather comes. The potatoes are cured by storing 2 to 3 weeks at 75 to 80 degrees F., after which store in a temperature of 50 to 60 degrees F. until the tubers are used. DO NOT HANDLE THEM while in storage. At all times handle with the greatest of care to avoid bruising. Broken or injured potatoes should be used first.

OK! Now you’re a sweet potato raising expert!

Let’s visit about something nearly everybody loves and is easy to grow …


121214-tgp-radishSoil? Any soil that does not bake too hard will produce good radishes and if you fertilize, use a fertilizer low in nitrogen. All organic materials such as leaf mold, compost and humus are beneficial. Sprinkle gypsum, 3 or 4 pounds to 50 feet of row and work into the soil before planting.

Radishes are very easy to grow. Plant seed from April 1 to May 15, using early varieties. Thin seedlings to stand one and one half inches apart when the first true leaves appear. Radishes are a cool-weather crop – don’t plant them too late in the spring! If your radishes go mostly or all to tops, you probably planted them too late in the spring. Midsummer temperatures are not conducive to the production of radishes in our area.

If you must plant in warmer weather, the variety ‘Icicle’ does better in the warmer temperatures.

If your radishes have long, thin red stalks between the radish and the leaves, the soil is probably too rich in nitrogen, the night temperatures are too high or they are not being thinned sufficiently.

And finally, some of the improved radish varieties available now are Cherry Belle, Champion, Comet, Sparkler, Giant Butter, Long Scarlet and White Icicle. If you prefer winter radishes try White, Scarlet Chinese or Long Black Spanish.

Let’s move on now to …


121214-tgp-peppersWant early sweet peppers? Buy your plants locally or start seeds under glass in March. Set out when all danger of frost is past – just a little later than you set out your tomatoes.

Big plants – no or few peppers? If plants are too vigorous, you might try growing them on less fertile soil and DO NOT put any nitrogen or manure on until the peppers are set and partially grown. Try using a liquid fertilizer side dressing. Grow them with just a little or no nitrogen.

Temps below 50 degrees or above 90 degrees F cause flowers and small fruits to drop off. Fruit drop-off can be caused by too much nitrogen, boron deficiency or high or very low temperatures when the flowers are setting fruits. DO NOT pinch back green pepper plants – it makes them too late.

If you want to bring your peppers indoors in the fall, they will continue to bear in the winter. They must be moved carefully and with sufficient soil. Remember, peppers need high temperatures, humidity and sunshine!

What to grow? Early Pimiento, Pennwonder, Sunnybrook, Fordhook and California Wonder are sweet peppers, while on the hotter side is Long Red Cayenne and Hungarian Wax.

Now you’re a pepper expert!

That’s it for this week! I’m writing this the first week of December and already wishing for spring and the gardening season! Hope Santa brings me some gardening stuff, seeds, tools, books – anything to rush the season! The gardens are all put to bed now, but every day I crush up egg shells and mix them with coffee grounds to add to the garden soil. If you’ve been reading The Garden Patch, you know what the egg shells and coffee grounds do for the soil!

Thanks for reading; I hope you learned something from it. I always learn from the research I do – sometimes I learn why I do what I’ve always done. And I thought it was just because Mom and Dad told me to do it that way!

Till next time!

stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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