Planting sweet potatoes

You might want to think about adding sweet potatoes to your garden center shopping list.

Sweet potatoes are a nutritious change of pace from regular white potatoes. They are easy to grow since hardly any pests bother them but, you do have to do your part to help them along.

In order to produce a good crop, sweet potatoes require a long growing season. Also, the soil has to be warm and well-drained or else the roots are liable to rot in the ground. Raised beds are the best solution to cold soil and poor drainage.

An economical way to start sweet potatoes is to use small plant cuttings called sweet potato “slips”. The alternative is to use higher priced potted plants.

Sweet potato slips are usually sold bare root tied in bundles.

I planted my sweet potatoes this past week and posted a discussion about it online at my other website.

The days right around Memorial Day weekend are a good time to plant sweet potatoes in our area since any chance of frost is behind us and the soil has warmed up.





Damaged Apple Buds

I checked my apple trees  to see if there were any apples left after that freeze we had a couple of weeks ago. There are only a handful of small apples that looked like they could grow on to maturity.

Over 99 percent of the buds were frosted and subsequently fell off the tree. I found a few buds that were still hanging on but, once I touched them with my finger, they fell to the ground.

Apple buds
The tiny apple on top will probably grow into a mature fruit. The small bud below was killed by the frost and has already separated from the tree.

There are other small, growing fruits left on the tree but many of them are deformed. In those cases, the cold temperature killed only part of the bud. They will grow to maturity but will still be gnarled when they reach full size.

We have only a few trees — can you imagine having acres of trees and having to depend on them for your livelihood? That’s the position that fruit growers in Michigan are finding themselves in this year.

The question now is, do I continue to spray? I probably will spray a few times, just to help keep insects and foliage diseases in check.


Dibs on the Dibbers

There are a lot of different ways to sow seeds  into a garden bed.

Sometimes I use a hoe to form a shallow trench, then drop the seeds in. Other times I use my finger to poke a hole into the soil before dropping in the seed. I find as I get older, my finger has a tendency to get pretty tired if there are a lot of seeds to sow.

This week I finally decided to do something about it; I went into my woodworking shop a made a couple of traditional tools called dibblers — sometimes also known as dibbles or dibbers. These tools are used to make holes for planting seeds.

It took just a few minuets on the lathe to turn a couple of different sized dibbers from a piece of scrap cherry wood.

The dibble on the left has markings every half inch. The one on the right has markings in one inch increments

Most of the dibbers you see for sale on line and in the gardening catalogs have very sharp points. The description usually says something about how easy it is to penetrate hard soil with a metal-clad point. It occurs to me that if you prepared your planting bed properly, you wouldn’t need a sharp point.

I left the business end of my dibblers somewhat blunt. My garden soil is friable so it doesn’t take much effort to poke a hole. The blunt end also leaves extra space at the bottom of the hole for the seed to rest at the proper depth. It does make it more difficult to kill vampires, however.

If you need more space for a seedling transplant or plug, the tapered shape allows a hole to be widened by rotating the dibber in a circular motion.

I suppose I could have just whittled a piece of broom stick with my pocket knife but this is a much more elegant and versatile tool.




A Dogwood Makes Its Home

We have a wild area on our property that we keep for birds . It’s about an acre in size and is home to a wide variety of wildlife.

This spring, for the first time, we noticed a wonderful dogwood tree hidden in a rarely visited corner tucked in on the south side of  a pine tree. It is in full bloom and rivals anything you might find in a landscape nursery.

Our wild dogwood is about 18 feet tall.

It really is a stunning sight.

The tree is covered with large white blossoms.

We never would have had this surprise if I was sprucing-up this wild area every year with my brush cutter and weed-whacker. I probably would have cut it down long ago without even realizing what it was.

Sometimes, it pays not to organize the wilderness.