G. got our fourth freezer going this week, an old upright he bought at an estate sale for $30. With that one in business, we unplugged the old refrigerator-freezer in the pole barn. We still have the kitchen refrigerator-freezer going though and a small box freezer in the basement.
As I moved containers from the various freezers to the “new” one in the garage, I was surprised by how many I had tucked away. Some of them, such as a small container of pitted, tart cherries I had forgotten about. With other things, such as creamy zucchini soup, I hadn’t realized how much I’d put away. We’ll be eating zucchini soup until this time next year.
But, lest I revel too much in our success, we also had our first crop failure this week, and I made a batch of cranberry-pineapple jam that didn’t set properly.
We’ll probably end up using the runny jam as a kind of syrup for pancakes.
The failed crop, our sweet potatoes, is more upsetting. G. and I eat a lot of sweet potatoes, and we’d been looking forward to growing our own. The plants seemed like they were doing well. They grew like mad, spreading vines throughout the garden and threatening to trample other plants nearby.
I started to worry when my mom said they were done harvesting sweet potatoes in North Carolina. Everything I had read said that you start digging up the potatoes when the vines turn brown, but our vines stayed green. I thought: shouldn’t our colder weather be killing them? Then Monday, I read an article about Michigan farmers digging up their sweet potatoes. I told G. that if the potatoes were ready in Michigan, they should be ready here as well. He agreed.
G. dug our potatoes up on Wednesday. The vines were still green. Some of the sweet potatoes were just slivers of root, about as big around as a carrot. Others were monstrous, about 5 pounds each, but they had developed rot or broken in half.
We’re not sure what went wrong. G. said the dirt under the black plastic recommended for warming the soil in the North was like concrete. Maybe it was too dry? But then we had those big storms in the summer that rotted our carrots, so maybe the rot started then, when it was too wet? My mom says our clay soil is just wrong for growing sweet potatoes, and G. thinks she’s right. The area in central Wisconsin where a lot of regular potatoes are grown is sandy, just like the soil down South where sweet potatoes grow.
G. thinks we should abandon sweet potatoes and focus on other crops. The sweet potatoes, as he says, take up a lot of real estate, require a lot of labor to plant and dig up, and aren’t expensive to buy in a store _ at least compared to other vegetables.
He’s right, and certainly, we will be buying sweet potatoes at the grocery store this winter. Right now, we are mourning, and I am trying to figure out what to do with the few misshapen tubers we salvaged and have stored in the garage. As G. says, we can’t serve them to friends. But maybe I can mash them?