Sunday, September 23, 2012

Landscaping Made Easy, Part 10: More edible landscaping

Following this post where I talked about growing okra and this post where I hinted at sweet potato potential by showing a picture of harvested sweet potato plants that were destined for the compost, here we have yet another option for those of you who would like to have your landscape and eat it, too!
The contents of this stock tank are entirely edible.  Those are two varieties of oregano draping over the right and left sides (I do harvest some of this for certain recipes, but I also let them grow big like this because they are pretty).  That smaller plant in the middle of all that oregano is sage, which I primarily use in making quiches and turkey stuffing. 

That larger-leafed thing in the rear, the plant that's being encouraged to grow up the shepherd's hook, is a sweet potato plant.  Click on the photo if you'd like to enlarge it for a better view. 

Incidentally, I do realize that the garden mirror shown here is fairly unusual.  I like to experiment on the bleeding edge of garden design.  I picked up a couple of old sheet mirrors for about twenty bucks apiece at a church yard sale and my husband generously built sturdy outdoor frames for them.  We now have them facing two of our stock tank gardens.  Not only do these things break up the imposing view of the fence and add some extra dimension to our tiny back yard, they also help reflect extra sunlight into the stock tanks. 

See, vegetables can be grown in Houston year round, except there's a problem:  sun angles are much lower in winter, so the plants don't get as much light energy and therefore the vegetable yields are correspondingly lower.  I wondered if I couldn't kill two birds with one stone: add some visual interest to the garden using big mirrors, but also re-double the sun's own energy so that plant growth is increased. 
Sweet potatoes also have a couple of additional advantages as landscape plants. 
  • They are a summer crop - they are one of the relatively few vegetables that can tolerate Houston's intense summer heat (in fact, they have to have hot weather to grow properly). 
  • Along with those luxurious leaves, they also produce beautiful purple flowers similar to morning glory.
Here's a pic of a portion of our harvest this year:

Sweet potatoes do have one challenge associated with them, though: curing.  The best taste only comes from long-term storage (according to reliable internet sources, about eight weeks) at 55 degrees F.  Well, there's a problem with that, because Houston generally only offers these four temperature options, none of which are close to 55 degrees F:
  • 95 degrees F (outdoors)
  • 75 degrees F (inside your air-conditioned house)
  • 35 degrees F (inside your refrigerator)
  • -5 degrees F (inside your freezer)
My solution to this predicament is to use this little wine refrigerator to hold my sweet potato harvest.  It can be set at exactly 55 degrees F, which is apparently the magic curing temperature. 
This kind of accomodation is like a luxury hotel suite for sweet potatoes.  So I started calling them "suite potatoes".  Arf!

I will probably end up with many more than these shown here... by the time I started packing them into this fridge, I had already given an arm-load to my neighbors, and we had eaten some of them ourselves.
This is the first year that I'm attempting this wine fridge storage experiment, so we'll see how it goes.

Sweet potatoes, of course, are a southern staple food, and can be eaten a number of ways regardless of whether or not we're near to the Thanksgiving holiday, which is when they are de rigueur
If you prepare an un-cured sweet potato in the traditional mashed way, you'll need to add a bit of honey as well as butter and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, to intensify the taste.
We are also going to try to make sweet potato french fries in the near future. 

The gourmet / organic / local foodshed restaurant T'afia, which according to Yelp has apparently been closed and a new establishment named Sparrow opened in its place... T'afia used to do some interesting and innovative things with sweet potatoes, if I'm remembering correctly, but of course I can't access their menu given that they apparently ceased to exist last mongth. 
I don't see stuff like sweet potato fries on Sparrow's current menu, but I do see this reference to sweet potato vines.  I didn't know that they might be edible - I'll have to look into that.

I certainly do know about Swiss chard though, and talked about that in this previous post called "Doing things the chard way" (continuing my race to the bottom with myself for bad puns).
So there you have at least a cursory summary of the potential for sweet potatoes to enhance your suburban homestead.  There are a few more caveats I didn't mention here for brevity, so if you decide you'd like to try growing these, feel free to drop me an email for more info.

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