Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Day for Surprises

A few weeks back a young man stopped by my yard as he was walking through the neighborhood and asked about the garden. He couldn’t really tell what was in the yard because he had never before seen food growing, and he was curious.

We started at the cucumbers, and when he saw them, he started asking a lot more questions. This gardening suddenly looked very worthwhile! He told me that he liked to make a drink from cucumbers by dropping peeled chunks into a blender with some sugar and ice. I am going to have to remember to try this next year when we reach the time of cucumber-overload.

He was eventually impressed by the sweet potatoes —it was at first hard for him to imagine them underground— and he was definitely interested in the peppers, and tomatoes. He mentioned that most days he prepared his breakfast-eggs with chopped chili peppers. His usual peppers didn’t look exactly like any that I am growing this year, but when I said that we sometimes prepare eggs the same way, he was surprised.

Really, my yard was full of surprises for the young man, but he seemed more disturbed than surprised by the popcorn. Apparently, in Mesoamerica, where he is from, all corn is yellow, all yellow, and only yellow. My popcorn is almost black.

The biggest surprise for the young man, though, was the okra, a vegetable he had never seen before! Then I was surprised by his lack of familiarity with this great Southern vegetable, until I remembered that okra is from Africa.

Reflecting the U.S.A. itself, veggie gardens these days are miniature melting pots, with foods from many places around the world growing, with varying amounts of success, together. I'm a bit surprised that I didn't realize the similarity sooner.


  1. Amazing that people haven't seen food growing. Even without my parents garden when I was growing up, I saw gardens at friends houses and on field trips and vacations (Callaway gardens, Stone Mountain, Monticello, etc).

    I'm trying out sweet potatoes this year, which I've never grown before. How do I know when to dig them up? The info from my ag extension service just says to harvest "when tubers are 2-3 inches". How do I know?

  2. Owlfan,

    Thanks for dropping by to read!

    This young man wasn't the first to tell me that he had never seen food growing before. It shouldn't surprise me anymore, but it still does. I hope that my garden helps more of the "Ungardened" to understand where food comes from than just the bold few who walk right up to ask what I am growing!

    About sweet potatoes: they need to have been in the ground, growing, for at least three full months before they are ready, and you can let them get much bigger than just 2-3 inches. I usually dig mine in mid-October, before the weather gets very cool.

    Essentially, the sweet potatoes themselves need to stay at temperatures above about 55 degrees F. Around here, the soil temperature is still above that in mid-October, even fairly near the surface.

    Since the potatoes need to "cure" at a warmer temperature, waiting to dig them much later makes the curing more difficult. I usually aim a little space heater at mine, after laying them out in a single layer on newspapers (they will still have clumps of dirt on them that shouldn't be knocked off until they are dry). After a few days in the warm, dry air, the skins will be tougher and the potatoes sweeter.

    Hope that is helpful!


  3. Thanks! I guess I can just leave them be for another month or two. And I'll bet that you will talk about harvesting them here...

    Given that this is my first year of really gardening here (since I was a kid), I'm finding it really helpful to follow what you are doing when.

    Owlfan, SE of Atlanta


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