Friday, January 28, 2022

Sweet Potatoes in the Garden

Each year I save the very best sweet potatoes to plant for the following season for growing out sweet potato slips. I have found that by utilizing my clay ollas using my EasiOyYa setup (, I am able to provide a steady source of moisture for my sweet potatoes.


All I do is set the sweet potatoes in the ground lengthwise near each olla, then I water them once by hand. Then I wait. As the sweet potato slips pop out of the ground, I make sure to select slips that have strong healthy growth. Slips consist of both the top growth (the stem and leaves) as well as the roots that begin growing below ground from the stem. For the most part, once the sweet potato is harvested, no roots or further growth occurs from the original mother sweet potato unless the new slips provide energy to them. When I lived in Tucson and had warmer soil temperatures, I found it easiest to grow sweet potatoes by starting the tuber in the ground and removing the potato once the slips have grown large enough. However, now that I live in an area with cooler soil temperatures, I find it advantageous to start my slips where I know that the soil temperature remains consistently warm.


Starting slips can be relatively easy. In very hot climates, you can shade the transplants for a day or two to allow them to get established. Because the leaves do not transpire as much as many other vegetable varieties, most transplants should be successful. Even a relatively small end of stem can be successfully transplanted into the ground to make a completely new plant.


While I generally start my transplants around June 1st (something I have been doing since living in Tucson), you may need to start your transplants a little later if you live in a much cooler climate. Short-season productive varieties may do better in climates with a short season. For nearly a decade, I have been utilizing Dingess Purple. I settled on this variety after a trail with half a dozen purple sweet potato varieties. It had the best flavor and texture of any of the sweet potatoes I grew and it makes a fabulous purple sweet potato pie.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Bananas from the Greenhouse to the Backyard

In the early days of 2020, for some reason I felt a strong desire to grow bananas. While I had known that it is possible to grow some types of bananas in my climate, I had not been focusing deeply on growing bananas for any period of time. It was just something that felt right at the time, so I found some bananas online and purchased them.













While there are many different kinds of banana trees that I could grow, and there are many different kinds of bananas in the world today, I settled on trying out the regular Chiquita-style banana, the Great Nain. I knew that this particular variety exhibited less cold tolerance than some others, but I felt it was worth it to give it a try.


The banana trees I received were clones that were shipped from Florida. They did alright in the greenhouse for a while. However, after a period of time, they did require planting out. I planted them out once at a time until I planted the last one out.












At first I saw the little plants I set out suffer each time I set it out. One and then the next died. Finally there were only two plants left. One of those began to rot from the inside. I felt nauseous as I contemplated wasting so much time on keeping them alive and then having it end this way.




Fortunately, I had also felt that I should try a new kind of biological fungicide called “Serenade”. I sprayed it on both of the plants and poured some of the diluted mixture on the center of the decaying plant. Within a week, the nearly dead plant began growing out a new middle stalk. Within several weeks that plant produced a couple pups.


While I am definitely no expert on the best techniques and strategies to growing bananas in a 9b climate in the Bay Area, I did know that compost helps. I made sure to add as much healthy compost as I could and the tree responded with plenty of growth. In addition to compost, the plants responded well to a combination of regular watering coupled other amendment – especially nitrogen fertilizer.







By the end of the season, the cold weather became difficult for the trees. The types of fungus and bacteria that are so prevalent in the winter took hold and reduced some of the strength of the older growth on the tree. The only way I was able to stave it off was by utilizing a spray containing Bacillus subtilis strain QST 713. While I would have preferred using clear plastic to protect the plants, during occasional cold spells I encircled the plants with a camping tarp.

Friday, January 14, 2022

The Diva Cucumber

Of all the cucumbers out there, Diva really seems to stand out. Diva is not only an All American Selection winner, but is also a very balanced combination American cucumber size and Lebanese cucumber texture on a hardy disease-resistant vine.


My experience with Diva was that it produced much like other Beit Alpha or Lebanese cucumber varieties. This means that it can be picked as a young tender cucumber to be snacked on and its skin is both thin and tender. Because of this, any leaves or branches that brush against the fruit during wind or anything passing by can leave scars on the fruit.


As previously mentioned, the skin is thin as well as tender. The flesh is juicy and the taste is relatively bitter-free. While I have eaten some Beit Alpha cucumber varieties that gave me indigestion, Diva did not. This, along with the somewhat pleasant taste made Diva a really good cucumber for me.

While Diva is listed as parthenocarpic (able to set seedless fruit without the need for pollination) I did notice some of the first female fruits abort. I am not sure if this is something typical in parthenocarpic cucumber varieties, but I thought it was a bit odd. After several fruit not setting, the remainder of the fruit set, primarily without seed. At this point, I would like to make a clarification. Cucumbers can be pollinated and, due to problems with poor pollination or poor reception of pollen from the female fruit, the vines can produce fruit that is seedless. Cucumbers or melons that are seedless are not necessarily parthenocarpic. For a cucumber to be parthenocarpic, it requires setting without any form of male pollination from any vegetable of the same species. I have had plenty of cucumber that produced seed poorly or not at all. Rather than this being a characteristic of parthenocarpy, the non-existent seed production was a symptom of poor pollination. Sometimes the plant is stressed in some way that results in fruit being produced that is absent of seed. 


In any case, Diva does exhibit characteristics of a parthenocarpic cucumber in that it often produces seedless fruit, though I have yet to verify for myself that Diva will also produce without pollination.

Another positive characteristic of the Diva cucumber is that it lasted a long time. Only vigorous cucumber varieties can produce fruit for several months without wearing out. While this was only my experience, this may be true of the Diva cucumber no matter where it is grown. Long-lasting vines are helpful for people who would like to enjoy a continuous harvest of cucumbers without having to worry about succession planting throughout the summer.

Near the end of the season, I had the opportunity to harvest the Diva cucumber plants I grew for seed. While I did harvest an entire bucket of fruit, I found very minimal seed. Altogether, I only harvested a small handful of seed.

If you are looking to grow an all-around good regular snacking and slicing cucumber, you may want to consider growing the Diva Cucumber.