What is Wrong with these Tomato Plants?


A viewer of my YouTube channel just can’t figure out what’s happening with his tomatoes:

Quite a mystery.

Less than Impressive Cassava Harvests


I picked the most likely candidate in the overgrown cassava bed down the hill and dug it:

That’s barely worth feeding to the chickens!

Back when I grew cassava in North Florida, the roots would grow huge in the loamy sand. Here, I don’t know. People do get decent harvests, but my guess is the shade and the clay hurt our yields.

I’m going to try again and see if I can do better. These were grown in loosened soil but I think they could have used more sun.

We’ll see.

A Short Garden Tour


Today, in celebration of hitting 15,000 subscribers, I posted an entertaining tour through the little vegetable gardens out back:

The beds and fencing, etc., aren’t the way I would design a garden but the pre-made space works pretty well and has been a blessing. We’re getting some good pumpkins now, as well as greens and perennial cucumbers.

Here, as a comparison, is a garden I designed:

I don’t like raised beds all that much and was mostly phasing them out in my Florida gardens; however, they are more useful here where the soil is filled with rocks and clay.

In the future I hope to dig and sort all the rocks out of the beds which will help even more.

It is nice to get some Seminole pumpkins from the garden but I am quite disappointed they all seem to be the necked variety. That was unexpected – not what I thought I had saved.

Have a great weekend. I’ll be getting some gardening done today.

Stinging Velvet Beans REALLY Sting


I finally got to encounter some non-cultivated velvet beans in the wild – and they are definitely unpleasant. It’s one thing to hear – it’s another to experience.

And you know me, I like to experience all kinds of unpleasant things.

Now I really feel sorry for Keith’s wife and her brush with murderous Mucuna!

Here’s my hunt from the other day:

“Down the road by the burned car”

I set off on my hike to hunt for wild velvet beans with the idea of asking a neighbor if he knew where any might be growing. It didn’t take long, as I came across a local farmer a minute after leaving my driveway. He asked where we were walking.

I told him we were hunting for the wild stinging beans and his eyes widened. “Why???”

I said they were good medicine and he told me, skeptical, that they were down the road by the burned car. And he also warned me to be careful… and handed us a few ripe sapodilla for the road. My neighbors are great.

I found the beans without trouble, and I thought I was careful handling them. I had gloves and jeans on, plus a plastic bag for the beans.

I wasn’t careful enough.

The itching creeps up on you. It’s a bit of a tickle, then a sting, then an insistent stinging itch that will drive you mad.

Though I didn’t touch any of the beans, the fine hairs drift off the pods when they are disturbed… and where those hairs will land, no one knows.

Granted, I didn’t get it too badly. My arms were driving me crazy for a while and got worse when I washed them. I carefully peeled out of my outer clothes and scrubbed my arms with soap and water. Eventually the itching subsided.


The beans we found in the wild were smaller and uglier than the ones Keith grew, and they definitely weren’t as large as the stingless types. They almost looked a bit mangy.

Originally I planned on planting these somewhere and using them like I used the stingless velvet beans I used to grow back in Florida.

Now? No. Too unpleasant a plant for the homestead, as much as saying that makes me feel like a loser.

If I ever get an “itch” to plant them, I’ll go back and watch this video again.

UPDATE: You can find stingless velvet beans on ebay.

8 Reasons Why You Should Be Growing Chayote Squash


Hey! Let’s do a list post! How about “8 Reasons Why You Should be Growing Chayote Squash?”

Oh shoot. Now I have to come up with eight reasons, which is a number I picked arbitrarily. That shouldn’t be hard, though, as chayote really is an excellent addition to the garden. Also known as christophine and mirliton, they are a Mesoamerican crop which is now available around the world. Costa Rica exports tons of them to the EU and the US every year as the taste for this tropical squash-that-doesn’t-taste-like-a-squash has grown.

Ready? Let’s see if I can come up with eight reasons for growing chayote squash… here goes…

1. Chayote is Productive

No lie! This squash is likely to be the star of your garden in 2017 if you get them planted this spring.

Here’s a photo-manipulated shot of a bag of them I picked in my North Florida garden at the beginning of 2016, just before the first frost of the winter (which was a very late one – January!):

growing chayote squash is good for big harvests

It looks artistic, doesn’t it? I added an “artistic” filter in Photoshop!

You can see me harvesting these squash in this video (along with a few other goodies):

They are a wonderfully productive plant – but don’t think this productivity lasts for only one gardening year. Oh no – the story gets better!

2. Chayote are Perennial

That means they come back year after year. Look at this one growing back:

I love perennial vegetables. (You might be surprised at how many great ones there are – if you want to dive down the perennial rabbit hole, Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book Perennial Vegetables will get you dreaming.)

If you live in a colder climate, mulch over chayote’s roots to make sure they don’t freeze in the winter. My bet is you’ll be able to keep them going all the way into zone 7 if you’re clever with frost protection.

3. Chayote Taste Good

There is a highly productive vegetable that starts with a “z” which I don’t wish to mention, as it is a hateful and vile thing.

People grow this, then throw them away.

Unlike that abomination, chayote are good enough that you’ll want to eat them. They are much like a dense cucumber and some call them a “vegetable pear.” If you play pretend, they are somewhat like a mild pear but without the grittiness.

How do you eat them? I need to make a another point, obviously, or I won’t hit eight. So…

4. Chayote are Versatile in the Kitchen

Chayote can be sliced and eaten raw like their cousin the cucumber, or they can be peeled and cooked. we discovered through experience that if you don’t peel them the skins get quite tough in cooking.

Chayote can be made into pickles and relish and can also be sauteed. One of my favorite ways to eat them is right off the vine, like a fruit.

growing chayote squash is easy

They are denser than a cucumber and hold up better in cooking. They’ll also absorb the flavor of whatever you cook them in, so they’re a good filler for the pot.

5. Chayote Shoots are Delicious

This is something I discovered while I was visiting the H.E.A.R.T. gardens in Lake Wales and touring the plants with my friend Josh Jamison.

“Have you ever eaten the shoots?” he asked, when I recognized chayote growing on a trellis.

“No,” I said, “I heard they were edible but never tried them.”

“Here,” he said, breaking one off. “You have to try one.”

I did. “These are amazing!” I said.

He grinned. “They really are good – I’m growing this trellis just for the shoots!”

I was impressed. They’re good in the way asparagus is good. Chayote shoots are a mix of subtle flavors, nutty, fresh, green, sweet, delicious.

6. Chayote is Easy to Grow

Some vegetables – like tomatoes – are technically a perennial but practically speaking are an annual. Unlike these fair weather perennials, chayote sticks around happily. I’ve had few problems with insects, disease or nutritional deficiencies… they just like to grow. Strangely, though, I have had multiple chayote rot when they were planted, instead of grow. I found out what I was doing wrong, however, and now plant them differently.

In a video I posted yesterday, I show you how to plant chayote to give them a better success rate from the beginning.

Planting them on their side, not all the way in the ground, seems to be the best way to do it.

7. Chayote are Novel

There is such a thing as garden bragging rights. In fact, once you reach Super Elite Gardener Status(TM), you start competing with other gardeners to see who has the wildest and weirdest things growing.

Super Elite Gardener #1: “So… did you see my mouse melons?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: (yawns) “Oh yeah. I grew those, like, five years ago.”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Of course. Everyone grows them. But I know you used my guest bathroom earlier… notice anything… interesting… in there?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “Uh…”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “You did, didn’t you? Yes, you did. Tell me what it was.”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “It was… a… 30-foot…

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Yeeeeeeeessssss?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “…or maybe longer…”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Say it.”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “…vanilla orchid with pods on it.”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Which you wouldn’t think was anything, would you, if it were just a NORMAL vanilla orchid, right? Why is this one so special? Tell me.”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “I’d rather not say.”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “That’s because I win, don’t I?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “Fine!” (sobs) “You win! It was a VARIEGATED 30-foot-plus vanilla orchid with pods on it growing 1200 miles from the tropics! You win! I hate you!”

Chayote may not be at that level, but it will put you ahead of the typical backyard vegetable gardener.

8. Chayote Vines Will Climb on What’s Available

Unlike some vegetables that need to be tied up carefully and supported well, chayote will happily cover whatever is available.

I’ve seen them growing 40 feet up in oak trees. They’ll climb towards the sunshine and put fruit way up in the air. This is good and bad, of course. It’s great that they are so scrappy, but it’s hard to harvest fruit that high in the air.

If you have a chain link fence, a small tree you don’t care about or a rotting garden shed… plant chayote next to it and let them run. They’ll turn that support into a beautiful green mass of vines in a season. Growing chayote squash over eyesores isn’t a bad idea, actually. Got a burned-out car? Grow chayote on it! An ugly spouse? Chayote!

My chayote vines quite happily grew over an unproductive pomegranate tree and covered it with fruit… albeit not pomegranate fruit.

growing chayote squash on a tree

They make good shade, too, so you could plant them on an arbor over a sitting area for summer shade.

Actually… I could add a 9, too. Let’s do it!

9. (A BONUS! EXTRA POINTS!) Chayote is a Solid Survival Crop

Because of the list above, chayote is a very good addition to a survival gardening plan. Their nutritional profile is good, though they are unfortunately low in calories. The productivity makes up for low caloric yield, though, and they’re a good break from MREs, spam and canned beans!

Now that I made it to 9 of 8, let’s take a minute and look at growing chayote squash in your backyard (or front yard, if you’re hardcore).

Growing Chayote Squash

Growing chayote squash is easy.

First, get a few chayote from a grocery store, a fellow gardener or a farmer’s market.

Leave the fruits out on your counter for a few weeks. Eventually some of them should grow shoots out of the blossom end. (Chayote do not grow from proper seeds. Instead, the fruit surrounds a single embryo in the middle.)

Once they sprout and the vines are a few inches long, I plant them as shown in the video above.

Make sure you have something sturdy for them to climb where you plant the sprouted fruit. They’re not picky, as I said, but they are vigorous.

Chayote like full sun but will take half shade. Morning sun is the most important.

Chayote like compost, nitrogen and mulch. I fed mine with diluted urine (and sometimes undiluted) poured at the base of the plant. My bet is they’ll also appreciate calcium.

My plants produced in the fall after growing vigorously all through the spring and summer.

Have fun growing chayote squash – it’s a worthwhile vegetable to add to your survival garden.

She Quit Worrying and had Sweet (Potato) Success!


Do you remember this post where Kerri worried about her sweet potatoes wilting?

My Sweet Potatoes are Wilting and have Yellow Leaves!

Good news. Kerri kept growing and ended up with a nice yield:



She writes in a recent email:

“Thank you so much for your help! I’m super excited to grow my second crop! Last year, I planted the slips on June 3 and harvested on October 8. I planted 11 slips in a 4×4 bed. (Of course the vines spilled outside the bed, making 18” of awesome soil on all sides of that bed! But there were no potatoes outside the 4×4 bed.)

The potatoes were delicious and we ate them all during the fall. On Christmas day, we mashed the final bit for the family dinner. The little ones were pretty great mashed. 🙂

Anyway, here are my questions for you:

1. Why are some so huge and some so little? I thought it might have been too many slips in too small a space, thus crowding the potatoes, but I watched your recent video and you planted a TON of slips together. Then I thought it might have been that I harvested too early, but I had a couple of super huge potatoes and I’m afraid they would have been monsters if I waited.

2. When should I plant my sweet potatoes this year? Is early June a good time? I think in the past you told me you usually harvest in November. If I plant them in late March, can I harvest earlier? (and maybe plant a second bed in June or July for fall!)

3. Will sweet potatoes grow in sandy soil? Maybe I can put them in the sand with some weeds and organic material and let them be some of the living roots in the ground like the Natural Farmer shared.

I appreciate your help and expertise in everything gardening! I’m voraciously reading your Compost Everything book right now. I am desperately trying to turn some sand into soil! 😀

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I love being able to answer the majority of my gardening questions by using the search bar on your site.”


Thank you, Kerri, I appreciate it.

Let me take the questions one at a time.

Why are some sweet potatoes huge and others little?

Short answer:

This is just the way sweet potatoes grow.

Long answer:

We’re used to seeing sweet potatoes in similar sizes stacked up in supermarket displays. Farmers don’t want huge potatoes or tiny ones, so those are culled.

The USDA breaks sweet potatoes into different grades.

For example, “U.S. Extra #1” sweet potato rules are:

1. Length shall be not less than 3 inches or more than 9 inches.
2. Maximum weight shall be not more than 18 ounces.
3. Maximum diameter shall be not more than 3-1/4 inches.
4. Minimum diameter, unless otherwise specified, shall be not less than 1-3/4 inches. (See §51.1605.)
Aren’t you glad you’re not trying to grow these things commercially? Culled sweet potatoes are often fed to livestock.
As a sweet potato vine grows, the largest tubers are at the base of the vine and secondary tubers produced along the vines are usually smaller. They’re a perennial vegetable and will keep making roots and running as long as you let them, though the first year’s yields have always been much better for me than vines that have stayed in the ground longer.
Smaller sweet potatoes can be used to plant the next bed or can be eaten. Here’s one we used for planting, as the big fat ones were already eaten:
It’s not like seeds. If you plant seeds from a plant with small fruit, you’ll often get small-fruited crops. With sweet potatoes, they’re clones thanks to vegetative propagation. That means a small potato or a large potato both give you the same type of vine with potential for large roots.

When should I plant my sweet potatoes?

You’re in Orlando, so plant them now if you can!
You can plant later but earlier plantings that get established before the blazing heat do better. I usually didn’t plant sweet potatoes any later than May in North Florida, and that was really late.
Get them in early and you’ll get even bigger tubers. Like these:
Heck yeah.
Sweet potatoes don’t like the cold, so whatever your gardening climate, be sure to plant them after the danger of frost has passed.

Will sweet potatoes grow in sandy soil?

Yes, absolutely. Sandy soil is great for sweet potatoes. I double-dug beds and added compost, then Rachel and I planted away.
Just feed them and they’ll thrive in the sand. They also really like mulch beds.
Good luck with your future sweet potato harvests and have a great 2017 gardening year.
And great work, Kerri. Keep it up.

Gardening in Okinawa Without Land


I answer quite a few questions on topics ranging from composting, gardening, survival and food forests. A few of them I share here.

This recent question about gardening in Okinawa is worth covering here, just because it’s so out of the ordinary:

M writes:

“Hi David!

Hope you and your beautiful family are thriving today! I first learned about you all through Marjory Wildcraft’s online summit a couple of years ago. You and Justin Rhodes! Appreciate you both.
(Some missionaries to Okinawa) came to our church last month — they have been and will be working specifically amongst service members on the military bases there. They have such a heart for them! They told a story of watermelons costing $50+ in stores and $38 at the commissary, and as I thought about that I had a brainstorm. Truthfully, I think it was a “God-prod.” 🙂
I’m making them a bunch of large fabric pots to pack in their shipping container. They aren’t exactly sure where they will be living or if there will be any dirt for gardening in (anything more than a patio), so this seemed the best option.
They’ve also asked for seeds. Watermelon is a given :). But EVERYTHING is expensive there. I’m figuring they will want salad greens, tomatoes, zucchini, etc., etc. I’m going to try to find all open-pollinated varieties for them, in case they want to seed-save. He is originally a Louisiana boy, if that helps at all.
Would you have any recommendations for specific varieties, etc, etc.? Would your Florida gardening book be helpful in their situation? They are definitely in a sub-tropical zone, and during the hot and humid summer, typhoons come through a lot of nights.
The only place they’ve gardened was in New Mexico, so there will be a learning curve! (And I’m in zone 5b — worlds apart climate-wise!)
Blessings to you and the family.”

Step 1: Learn the Climate

First of all, I know little about Okinawa – but I do have Infogalactic, so I decided to do some research and get up to speed on the climate we’re dealing with:
“The island’s subtropical climate supports a dense northern forest and a rainy season occurring in the late spring.”
Okay, getting closer! Sounds similar to where I used to live in North Florida, so perhaps my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening would be useful; however, I don’t think it’s a good idea to just say “get my Florida gardening book and go to Japan – it should be cool!” We don’t want to leave these missionaries hanging, right?
Trying to choose species that will work without direct observation on the ground is difficult. We know it’s subtropical, but we don’t know much else.
This is where studying the commercial agriculture of a region becomes helpful.

Step 2: Figuring out What Grows Well

If there’s money in it, chances are it grows well. If you live in Georgia, grow some peaches and peanuts. If you’re in Iowa, grow corn. If you’re in Florida, grow weeds.
That’s a joke. Sorry, Florida.
According to this site, Okinawa grows a lot of excellent produce.
Here’s a helpful chart:
However, those crops may not be exactly what will grow where M’s missionary friends will be stationed as the chart was produced for “Okinawa prefecture” which, again according to Infogalactic, “comprises hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain over 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long.”
Chances are you’re going to garden year-round without trouble, however. Winters get a little chilly but not icy.
The best way to find out about gardening in Okinawa is to look for existing gardens and farms and play copycat. You may be able to make some good guesses on seeds but the local varieties will likely be better adapted. You also may get seeds confiscated at the airport, so you need to keep that in mind as well.

Step 3: My Humble Final Recommendations

Though I would rather spend a week or two wandering around Okinawa and observing before I make any hard recommendations, I would suggest that the following crops would likely thrive in that climate.
Yard-long beans
True yams (unavailable from seed but likely sold in markets)
Pickling cucumbers
Seminole pumpkins (though hard to keep under control)
Malabar spinach
Cherry tomatoes
Bush green beans/wax beans (easy everywhere)
Bitter gourd (though it tastes awful)
Okra (almost certainly easy)
Lettuce (during cooler seasons – Black-seeded Simpson always grows well)
Cilantro (easy!)
I also bet they will have seeds available locally. I recommend they also start composting as soon as they get there. Even a trash can compost bin with drainage holes in it will work. Homemade compost will help keep costs down. Using seaweed to feed their gardens is another good idea.
Good luck and God bless. If your friends start gardening and have questions or would like to share photos from their garden, I would love to share them here.
Another article I wrote which might help is this one on balcony gardening.


*Top image via Ken Funakoshi, creative commons license.

Primitive Technology: Planting Cassava and Yams


This guy…

Fantastic. Never tried the mound method for planting cassava. Will have to try that. I’ll bet it makes harvest much easier.

I like this field fencing, too:


That’s a lot of labor, but you can really grow a ton of calories in this space.

Cassava and yams will feed you for a long time.

Pigeon Peas: A Survival Plant Profile


Pigeon peas aren’t your typical garden pea. They are a big plant – you could even call them a small tree.

On Saturday Rachel and I walked down to the big patch of pigeon peas we planted last summer and found to our delight it was finally time to start picking.

We stuffed two shopping bags with pigeon pea pods.

Pigeon peas in the shell

There are at least two different varieties of pigeon peas growing on our plot. Some have reddish-brown pods, the other has green pods with blotchy red-brown patches.

If you leave the pods on the pigeon pea plants, they mature to a very good dried pea. If you pick them a little earlier, they can be shelled and eaten like regular garden peas.

pigeon peas shelled

We ended up with a few gallons of green peas after shelling. We also got some dried peas from pods that had already matured on the plants.

dry pigeon peas

Last night we had green pigeon peas and rice mixed with saltfish for dinner. That was good. Hearty and healthy.

A Reader Interjects!

But… let me back up a bit. Reader James Paganacci wrote the following on my Survival Plant Profiles page a few days ago:

“I’m not sure if you have grown pigeon peas? They grow nicely in southern Florida (probably ok up north also?) and last a few years. They fix nitrogen and grow in sandy soils. Although they do better in rich organic soil. They don’t transplant very well, have to be careful with the root system or they go into shock and die. They are very easy to grow, prolific and produce a lot of edible seeds. I believe the amino acid profile is pretty good. This plant is a good addition to the survival plant list.”

Yes, I agree – so let’s make this a fully-fledged survival plant profile!

Pigeon Peas: An Excellent Survival Crop

I like having knowledge and success with a plant before I write a profile (though the recent survival plant profile I wrote on stinking toe trees was all based on research, not actual growing hours) which is why I waited for some time to write about pigeon peas.

In North Florida I attempted to grow pigeon peas multiple times and they always succumbed to frost before making more than a few peas. They’re day-length sensitive, which means they won’t flower until the fall and winter… and that spells doom for your crops.

In South Florida or anywhere with frost-free winters they’re a very good option as they fix nitrogen and can handle lousy soil.

Dry pigeon peas are found at Indian grocery stores. They grow readily. Sow them a couple of inches deep and wait a week or two. You can literally hack chunks out of your lawn and plant pigeon peas… and they’ll thrive.

As a further bonus, the hard wood of pigeon pea shrubs fuels rocket stoves like a boss.

Heck, this is another Swiss-army knife plant, so let’s make a list of its attributes.

Pigeon Pea Uses

Storable dry peas

Green peas good as a vegetable

Green manure

Drought-resistant source of calories


Erosion control

Good chop-and-drop for establishing food forests/mulching

Wood useful for firewood

Great forage for animals

Fixes nitrogen

Breaks up hard soil with its strong roots

Can be used to suppress weeds

Good road-side hedge

Impressive, eh? Yeah. They’re awesome.

How to Plant Pigeon Peas

In January Luis Quinones commented on one of my previous pigeon pea posts:

“In Puerto Rico mi grandma use to plant in the same hole at the same timeof planting bush beans sweet corn and pigeon peas. Both the bean and the pea will benefit the corn by fixing the nitrogen in the soil. Plus she fertilize one time only.
1. First to harvest was the beans. Feeding the plants and husk to the goats.
2. Second came the corn. Also feeding the leftovers to the goats and pigs.
3. Last one the pigeon pea. She will do 2 harvest one for green peas and last one for dry peas. Which she store in old one gallon milk only for later use that will last for a year. Then feeding the pigeon pea bushes to the goats.
This is like the 3 sisters system that the American Indian use to do. The difference is they used pole beans, corn and squash.
With the squash you don’t have to weed.
Find your 3 sisters combinations where one plant will benefit from the others.”

I like that idea. I just planted another round of pigeon peas in a new location and am thinking of adding squash/pumpkins to the plot to increase the overall yields. Pigeon peas are a perennial which will produce for a few years, long after the corn and pumpkins are gone.

You can see how I planted the new patch in the video I posted yesterday:

I’m not sure how the corn will do as we really didn’t loosen up much ground and the grass here is tough; however, I know the pigeon peas will take off.

You don’t need to interplant them, either. You can plant them alone. Got a rough patch of ground? Get it going with pigeon peas.

3-4′ spacing is perfect for pigeon peas, as they get big and branch out.

Pigeon Pea Allelopathy

You might not want to grow pigeon peas too close to some other crops, though. A local farmer told me that pigeon peas make other plants around them unhappy and that trees don’t like them.

I thought this was strange as pigeon peas are often recommended by permaculturalists as a great nitrogen-fixing species.

After a little research I discovered they are allelopathic.

According to everyone’s favorite agricultural company:

“As with many other legumes, pigeon pea has been shown to have Allelopathic properties which may inhibit the growth and performance of the following season’s crop. This should be taken into account if large fields are planted.”

I planted pigeon peas around some trees in my North Florida food forest but am unsure whether or not they had an effect on growth, positive or negative.

More tests are obviously needed, but for now I wouldn’t shy away from planting them in developing food forests. They certainly don’t seem to dampen the growth of corn.


Worries about allelopathy aside, I grew pigeon peas in an area of dead sand which had been rendered a mini-desert by goats. The peas thrived and the area was restored to a good gardening spot.

There are plenty of reasons to grow this excellent staple survival crop. It meets the test of being useful for many things, plus it tastes good and provides a good amount of protein unlike many other staples.

If you can grow pigeon peas, do it!

You’ll find more info at Infogalactic.

And at Tropical Permaculture.

And at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.







Name: Pigeon Pea, gunga pea, sometimes just “peas”
Latin Name: Cajanus cajan
Type: Shrub/small tree
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Medicinal: Some uses claimed
Cold-hardy: No
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Peas, leaves for forage and mulch, stems for cooking wood
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Green peas steamed or boiled. Dry peas boiled until soft. Peas can also be sprouted and used.
Storability: Dry peas, very good. Green peas, frozen.
Ease of growing: Totally crazy easy
Nutrition: Good. High in protein.
Recognizability: Moderate
Availability: Moderate

Preparing and Planting a Bed of Sweet Potatoes


Planting a bed of sweet potatoes is easy.

Preparing a bed for sweet potatoes is a little harder. That takes some digging and loosening.

Fortunately, my trusty Meadow Creature broadfork is always up to the task.

Digging in sandy soil with a broadfork is easy. In rocky clay, it’s not nearly as easy. It’s basically an extreme sport in clay.


It’s not impossible, though. That bed took me perhaps 45 minutes to prepare, mostly because it takes more stomping on the broadfork than I’m used to, plus I had to bust up the big clods.

Sure, it’s work – but it’s work that needs to be done, especially for root crops.

Why Dig a Garden Bed?

The major reason: loose soil. If the soil structure is open and crumbly, plant roots do a lot better. They can dig deep and get the minerals and water they need without having to force their way through hard earth. You’re doing the hard work first to make their lives easier.

Digging garden beds even works well in sand, as I discovered back in Florida.


When your plants have easier lives, they’ll spend more time making delicious things for you to eat.

The Initial Feeding

When I prepare a garden bed I rake in compost right at the beginning. In the past I’ve also used amendments such as lime, blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal and kelp meal – all of which are excellent additions to the soil.

Here, though, I can’t get most of those things, so I stick to compost, biochar and sometimes seaweed.

You can see a recent bit of bed prep in this video:

You don’t need a ton of organic matter in the soil. A few percent is fine. I sprinkle perhaps a half-inch cover of compost on a newly dug garden bed and rake or turn it in before I plant. The plants really appreciate compost and it lasts longer and releases its nutrition over time, unlike chemical fertilizer.

When preparing this garden bed I used my Back to Eden chicken run compost, which is probably hotter than compost from a typical backyard pile. The plants don’t seem to mind, though.

Here’s how I made that compost:


Planting a Bed of Sweet Potatoes

This is easy as shoo-fly pie.

Just cut some vines and stick them in.

planting a bed of sweet potatoes

You can start your own sweet potato slips with store-bought sweet potatoes if you don’t have any vines currently growing on your homestead.

Use the toothpicks and a jar method – or – even easier – start potatoes growing by burying them shallowly in a pot of soil, then cut vines off of those to plant.

I use a stick to dig holes, then plant the sweet potato cuttings a few inches deep into them.

They’ll look like they’re going to die for a few days, then they’ll recover as the vines root. Sweet potatoes are tough.

For more on growing sweet potatoes in Florida and why they’re one of my top crops for the Sunshine State, check out my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening.

For more on sweet potatoes as a survival crop, plus an in-depth look at various garden designs and their pros and cons, get my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening.

I’ll post a video update on this bed soon – you’ll be amazed by how good these little pieces of vine look after a week or two.

Planting a bed of sweet potatoes takes some prep work, but do that preparation well and you’ll be rewarded with abundant harvests.

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