Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Survivor's Tale Ends

Yesterday morning the thermometer said 37 degrees. That's not quite down to freezing, but I think I saw patches of frost on the straw mulch in the south garden area.
Nothing seemed affected by the frost, except the watermelon vine at the back end of the north garden.
When I went to the bottom of the hill that afternoon, however, I found that the sweet potato vine growing below the dam had been seriously affected. It would have been a mass of blackened foliage, if some hungry deer had not eaten off most of the leaves. The few leaves that were left were black and shriveled.
So I trudged back up the hill and got the broad fork and bucket so I could dig.
This is not an unusual end to a sweet potato in Kansas.
But this particular vine has a tale. It is the single survivor of 12.
I planted sweet potatoes in late May on a Monday, at the beginning of what would turn out to be an unusually hot, dry week. I watered the 12 little starts, mulched them well and even put some row cover over them to protect them from bunnies and deer, give them a tiny bit of shade and slow moisture loss.
Then I pretty much forgot about them as I prepared for a long camping weekend.
When I returned from camping I remembered the sweet potatoes and how long they had gone without anymore water. I pulled off the row cover in panic to find just this one survivor.
Several weeks later, while weeding that garden area, I found three more puny, but alive survivors.
Funny, though, after the weed camouflage was removed, they got eaten off by deer or rabbits. The first known survivor had its leaves nibbled off, too, but unlike the other three, it continued to grow.
By late summer the surviving vine had covered most of the area where the sweet potatoes had been planted. It had suffered neglect when first planted, and extremely hot weather later in the summer. I did water it during that time because I was watering the nearby fruit trees and berry bushes.
After the frost damage, I sunk the broadfork's teeth into the soil and heard an ominous crunch. When I pulled it out, a piece of a rather large sweet potato came out. I dug out a couple more pieces of that one, plus pieces of another large one. I was digging about a foot away from the base of the vine, so I thought I would miss them all.
I found a couple of small potatoes and two larger ones that actually came out whole. Not much of a harvest.
Maybe I missed some, but I dug and dug and found no more.
And with that, the survivor's tale ends.
Now it's time to plant the garlic.

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