Intro: Sweet Tatorman

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Hi! I've recently registered after a long period of occasional lurking. Have been a very longtime reader of the ADR and sorely miss it.

I've been insprired to join by David's post awhile back encouraging greater involvement and realize that I have a bit to contribute. I could fairly be described as a "subsistance farmer". Likely most of my contribution here will be in the area of food growing and processing. In light of that, a bit of relevant background on my location w.r.t., gardening. I am in rural Northwest Georgia [US, not the European country] and in USDA plant hardiness zone 7b. Elevation 1000' [300m]. Typical freeze free growing season of ~210 days. Hot and humid summers.

I selected my screen name based upon the role that I seem to have adopted in recent years as one who is proselytizing for the consumption and climate permitting growing sweet potatoes. Headed out the door now to continue the sweet potato planting which is now right at 50% completed and more or less on schedule.


Welcome! The gardening info will definitely be welcome. 'Tis that time of year!


Glad you decided to come out of lurk mode. I'll look forward to seeing your farming hints... I appreciate any guidance I can get!

Blueberry's picture

You are not very far from the Lodge Plant in South Pittsburg TN. If you get a chance go there.


Sweet Tatorman's picture

Been there, have some of their stuff. For the folks not familiar with them, they are old time makers of all manner of cast iron cookwear. I mostly use one of their cornbread pans as I eat cornbread daily almost every day of the year. If you are driving on I-24 West of Chattanooga, TN, they are only a few miles off of the Interstate Hy. Exit 152.

Magpie's picture

Welcome to the forums! Sweet potatoes are a good staple crop to be growing (our local variety is called kumara in New Zealand). How do you store them in between plantings? The place I'm currently living, it is only possible to grow the greens, but I may be moving closer to the equator for work so am curious.

I've loved to eat them roasted (and plain) my whole life, though I distinctly remember my father adding 2tbs of butter, 1tbsp of cinnamon, and 1tbsp of sugar to each one my dear mother foisted on him.

Best of luck with your tubers. What else are you growing?

Sweet Tatorman's picture

>How do you store them in between plantings?<

Post harvest curing and storage probably merits a thread of its own but here is the short version. Other than protecting them from animals that would eat them, once properly cured the most important factor in storage is temperature. Most important is insuring that they do not spend any significant amount of time below 10C. If exposed to lower temperatures they go bad. *Never refrigerate*! with the exception of short term storage of already cooked ones. Optimum temperature is 13-16C. If you only need them to last a couple of months typical room temperatures are OK. Many people can use an unheated garage or celler depending upon their particular circumstance. I use a repurposed dead refrigerator located in a protected area outside [covered porch]. I have stripped it of all refrigeration hardware which serves to lighten it as well as increasing usable interior volume. Two small ventilation ports have been cut near the top and bottom and covered with filter media. A small electric heating element is installed near the bottom with a small fan to circulate air when the heater is energized. A thermostat is used to maintain the desired temperature. As described, this can only raise temperature which is the normal requirement in the Winter months. Winters here are mild typically falling below -10C only a few nights. Energy usage may reach ~2 $USD/month in the coldest two months but is negigible for the rest of the Winter. In early Fall and late Spring where daily average temps exceed desired storage temperature, sensors monitor interior and exterior temperatures. If interior is higher than desired and exterior is any lower value a small fan draws exterior air in through the lower ventilation port. Typically this would occur during the cooler nightime hours. During the warmer daytime the mass of the potatoes limits temperature rise. This arrangement works well for me. Now in early June I am still enjoying ones harvested last September and only occasionally find one that has developed any "off" flavor. This storage chamber can fit a bit over 100kg.

I also use the same setup for post harvest curing of newly dug potatoes. Curing simply consists of holding the potatoes at a slightly elevated temperature for a period of time. I typically do 5-6 days at 31-32C. Since I can only do ~100kg at a time I dig sequentially mid-Sept through early Oct. I retain ~100 kg for myself and give away the remainder which is typically 2-300 kg.

>What else are you growing?<

I may miss a thing or two but here goes: Peanuts, green bush beans, bush limas, pole limas, snow peas, garden [English] peas, cowpeas, asparagus, field corn [maize] for cornmeal, sweet corn, white potatoes, sweetpotatoes [5 varieties, 4 of which could be considered heirloom varieties], beets, Swiss chard, Red Malabar Spinach, leeks, various squash, various melons, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, dill. Wintertime mostly leeks and various coles, mostly kale.

Magpie's picture

That is a LOT of tubers! Congrats on your bountiful harvests. You have a pretty nice storage set up--good use for an old fridge. I'll have to think about that because there aren't many cellars in NZ due to most major cities being built at least partly on swamps; if you dig down deep enough for a cellar you hit the water table. Is the air flow in the unit enough to keep off the mould? Or are sweet potatoes more resilient than regular potatoes in this respect? My potato storage at the moment is very focused on having good air circulation or else I get higher than acceptable levels of rot.

It looks like the place I might be moving to alternates between winter lows of 8C/45F, and summer highs of 24C/75F--sounds like conditions should be ideal for storage. I'll keep everyone informed on my (mis)adventures if I get some kumara planted.

Thanks as well for the other veg suggestions. I'm used to being 43-45 degrees from the equator, and used to colder weather crops. I've had good luck with flint-type corn, so will definitely be growing that if garden space allows.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

>Is the air flow in the unit enough to keep off the mould?<

In 8 months of storage I typically lose on the order of 3-5% from all spoilage which certainly includes mould. One needs to be vigilent especially in the first few months to detect and chuck the bad ones before the problem propagates throughout the whole lot. I have used some iteration of the setup I described for over a decade. A change I made a few years back that I failed to mention in my already long-winded description is that I added a very small fan between the upper and lower compartments that runs continuously. It is the type one would typically find mounted on the heatsink of a PC processor chip, i.e., very small. This seems to have reduced losses a bit. The problem is that the old fridge is the type that has a separate freezer compartment on top and the reefer compartment below. For structual reasons I was not able to cut holes between the two compartments as large as needed for sufficient natural convection. The floor of the freezer compartment is required to support upwards to 30kg of potatoes. Without the added fan the upper compartment tended to run a bit cooler than the lower compartment which promoted condensation of the walls of the upper chamber which was not good to the extent that it dripped onto the potatoes. I should also note that the fan in the lower compartment which blows over the heating element when energized is positioned such that it at least slightly augments the natural chimney effect airflow entering the lower ventilation port. For perspective, the combined volume of the freezer and reefer compartments is about 18 ft^3 [~0.5 m^3] and the two ventilation ports are round 4" [10 cm] diameter separated vertically 5' [1.5m]. Even in the absence of the fans there would naturally be a bit of chimney or reverse chimney effect airflow at any time the interior and exterior temperatures differ. Your situation may be a bit more challenging as I am guessing that you have a fairly humid maritime climate Winter if you are anywhere close to the coast.

>It looks like the place I might be moving to alternates between winter lows of 8C/45F, and summer highs of 24C/75F<

Sounds great for people and growing regular potatoes. I think all of my varieties would have a hard time producing well for lack of heat. Your best bet would be to check with the local growers to find the varieties adapted to your prospective new area. I recall reading that the kumara grown by the Maori pre European contact were very tiny and the larger varieties grown in NZ are all European introductions from the Americas. Apparently there are varieties that can do well there at least in the warmer parts.

It is sufficiently hot here in the Summer that if at all possible I do all of my physical labor for the day before I take my breakfast. Afternoons are reserved for sitting in the shade by the stream drinking cold beer.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Good to have you here, Sweet Tatorman. What's your soil like there? Are you on a ridge or in valley?

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Soil type is mostly a sandy loam derived from a mix of limestone and sandstone. Area was all streambed in recent geologic past so was largely stream cobble with soil in spaces between cobbles. I removed >100,000 lbs of cobble to get about 1/4 acre of garden. I'm in a valley but ~100 feet from the Western edge of garden is the foot of a 1000' mountain which blocks the last 2-3 hours of sun depending on time of year.

David Trammel's picture

I've planted a few but didn't have much luck with them. Probably the smal space of the experiment.

Welcome to the forum and I look forward to hearing your experiences and observations.

David, aren't you too far north for sweet potatoes? I've been advised the Pacific NW just isn't good for them, though every now and then I see a few for sale at the farmers markets. You're at about the same latitude, yes?

ClareBroommaker's picture

dtrammel, could sweet potatoes be the green vegetable you are looking for? I guess you already know the leaves are edible. A woman somewhat near me grows them just for the greens. A large part of what she grows is in a narrow bed (20 inches?) along the length of the sidwlk on her side yard.

Sweet Tatorman, can you advise dtrammel on that?

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Only the last 3-4" of each vine is tender enough to eat even though pigs with gleefully eat the whole vine. I like them as a cooked green but do not recall eating them fresh. They are used quite a bit in some asian cuisine. I eat some form of cooked or fresh green daily but find sweetpotato greens too time consuming to pick a decent serving. They do have an attractive nutritional profile and are high in protein for a green.

Sweet Tatorman, this is a much smaller scale than you, but I’ve decided I need to grow sweet potatoes this year because they are a good high calorie crop and there are worries about food shortages. Only problem, is that I’m scared to go buy slips from Home Depot because of COVID-19. (I have a high risk family member.) So... when a grocery store sweet potato started sprouting, I let it. It looks like I’ll get 2-4 slips from it if I’m lucky. I cut the longest vine a few days ago and put it in a vase to root. It was shocking how fast roots grew. I’ve just today potted it into a 50/50 mix of garden soil and potting soil - hoping it’s happy. Meanwhile, I’ve ordered a bunching type of sweet potato from Park Seed - hoping they get considering how all the seed companies being s overwhelmed.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

You wrote > I cut the longest vine a few days ago and put it in a vase to root. It was shocking how fast roots grew.< Since you are in Georgia you have the climate for them to do well provided your garden area gets sufficient sunlight. Slips as normally planted have no roots at all. Your extra steps of rooting, potting mix, etc., are not required. You have plenty time yet to get your slips in the ground. I haven't even started my slip production yet this year. I generally start planting in late May and try to finish up by mid June but have had good yield from plantings as late as early July. Be aware that almost all of the potatoes ultimately produced will be attached to the initially planted slip so having a robust slip is important to yield. At least 4 nodes underground on the planted slip is considered the minimum. Try for more if you can. Have fun with them. They are a satisfying plant to grow.

We tried sweet potatoes one year. (Central Pennsylvania) We were dog-less at the time and had all kinds of problems with groundhogs eating the fresh new growth. Eventually, I covered the large, raised bed (12 feet by 7 feet) with wire mesh.
The groundhogs didn't like walking on the flimsy mesh and the slips took off.

When fall came, we discovered our other problem.
Field mice!
Oldest child dug out the bed and discovered that beneath both soil and leaves was mouse-tropolis. That bed was riddled with passageways, nests, larger nests, multi-family nests. The inhabitants scattered.

The vast majority of sweet potatoes had been eaten back to the stems. A few survived, with serious nibbling marks.
I remember vaguely that we got three (3) undamaged sweet potatoes.

So yeah, sweet potatoes really grow.
And yeah, like chicken dinners, EVERYBODY loves them.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Yes, mice do like living in the sweet tator patch. I have long had this mental image of Mr and Mrs Mouse discussing whether to eat in or eat out. If they decide to eat in they just stand up and gnaw on the sweetpotato that serves as the ceiling of their living room.
As for groundhogs, the Tatorman takes a position very much like the official position of the State Department regarding negotiating with terrorists. The Tatorman does not negotiate with groundhogs. See photo below, Tatorman +1, vamints -1.

add photo: 

I wish we could shoot those #$%^% groundhogs.
But we're inside the township and the township has rules. Even though I don't live inside an HOA, one of my neighbors would be bound to rat me out to the township.

Tall hedges provide visual privacy, but not sound privacy.

Maybe a crossbow? Or another varmint-killing dog who takes great pleasure in snapping varmint necks.

mountainmoma's picture

Groundhogs do not just live in hedges.
They move in under your toolshed and outbuiuldings.
They burrow under fences with ease.

And they climb four-foot high chain-link fences! it is bizarre to watch a fat groundhog waddle over a fence. They're also much faster than they look.

They go were they please. They ignore mothballs and used kitty litter dumped down their toolshed burrows.

They are NOT territorial. As soon as one leaves, another moves in.

The only cure we've found was a killer dog.

Muffy really enjoyed attacking groundhogs, grabbing them by the neck, and snapping and shaking until the groundhog died.
It was dangerous for her too, but she was too fast for their teeth and so didn't incur expensive vet visits after she got the hang of it.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Groundhogs are actually considered to be a species of ground squirrel. They are the largest of the North American squirrel species. I once watched one climb a peach tree [trunk not quite vertical] and come down with a peach.

ClareBroommaker's picture

We've been trying to find a vacant lot here in the city where we can grow peach trees. We ten minutes ago returned home from looking at a lot next to the interstate. A neighbor came over to talk with us and told us there were a lot of ground hogs that emerge from the thick brush, mostly bush honeysuckle, at back of the lot. I was thinking maybe all we needed to do was screen the baby tree trunks with chicken wire as we did at our last city orchard where trunk chewing rabbits were the threat.

Will ground hogs eat pumpkins and winter squash which I'd grow until the trees get bigger?

Sweet Tatorman's picture

>Will ground hogs eat pumpkins and winter squash which I'd grow until the trees get bigger?<
Get back to us in a few years and let us know. In my own garden I have not seen evidence of them eating these items but that may reflect that I grow things they like better. Groundhogs appear to really like sweetpotatoes, both the leaves and the tubers.

I can believe it, based on plenty of observation.
Groundhogs look like tubs of lard and move like gymnasts.

mountainmoma's picture

Put barbed wire on the top of the fence. And, now you have plausible deniability, so it is for keeping out ground hogs ( but also does double duty in keeping out people )

You also need to trench next to the fence and add some 2 foot roll fencing, half buried. This will keep your dog from digging out under the fence and the groundhog digging under

I have deer ( so all fences must be over 6 ft); bunnies that will push under a fence ( so need that buried wire fencing to keep out) pocket gophers, which cannot be fenced out as the live in tunnels that are a few feet under the ground, they sneak attack, you just see a wilted plant, and upon examination, all the roots are gone ( chard ) or they pull the plant in-- so this is why we all grow in raised beds with galvanized hardware cloth bottoms. Quail cannot be fenced out, and they love to eat all the kale leaves. Squirrels eat the nuts. Dogs help keep those scared away.

We in live in town (Hershey to be precise and the air really does smell like chocolate).

The township (because Hershey despite having a post office is not an incorporated area) has strict rules about what you can and can't do. It's not on the order of an HOA or land owned and leased by the Hershey entities, but they do have them.

The township rules are why I couldn't have a HIGHER chain-link fence (four feet was the max) AND why the fence had to be coated with green vinyl. It makes the fence disappear against our green and pleasant landscape.

Fortunately, the township doesn't mandate the height of shrubs, trees, and hedges, so as long as I don't conflict with overhead power lines and line of sight at intersections (yes, there are regulations for that; usually applied to street trees in the tree lawn) I can grow my hedges as high as I want. And I do.

Barbed wire would be great except the neighbors would rat me out.
My dear husband and dear son would probably balk at installing below-grade wire and those tall hedges I've got growing right up next to the fence would interfere as well. Too many roots by now.

I have to live with the @#$%$%#@ groundhogs.