Thursday, October 25, 2012

The best-laid plans...

I haven't blogged about the Derwood Demo Garden in ages!  We had a lovely Harvest Festival day at the beginning of October, perfect weather and a great crowd of visitors.  It's always fun to show off the garden and talk to people about gardening.

We started digging sweet potatoes that day, but sweet potato guru Barbara Knapp was away and the rest of us were busy talking, so we didn't get many out.  We did wonder, however, why one (really huge) one looked like this:






It was two weeks before any more got dug, and I was away on a trip that day.  But I wish I'd been there, because the MGs working on the project kept finding tubers with holes chewed out of them, and then they found the culprits.  An entire family of meadow voles.  Living there, with their food, getting fat on our sweet potatoes.

Now, voles and sweet potatoes are an old story to many of you, but this was a problem we thought we'd solved.  For years now, Barbara has been building a fence around the sweet potato bed.  It looks like this:


It's made of two-foot tall hardware cloth and it's set into a trench about six inches deep, and then the soil is mounded up inside and the plants set into it, with plenty of loose soil for the tubers to form in.  And it's worked great, until this year.  We think what happened was that the vines (which cascade over the fence starting in mid-summer and spread out in all directions) were strong enough for the voles to climb up, and they fell into the cage and settled right in and had babies and didn't need to send for takeout.




So, the plan next year is to add a cover to the cage, after the plants are in and established.  This should keep any intruders out.  We hope.  The voles at the garden were relocated elsewhere in the park, but they have a homing instinct and they'll probably come back for more.  And next year's the GIEI Year of Root Crops!

My sweet potatoes at home have been harvested and are curing.  The All Purple ones produced one very large tuber and a few other small ones far out on the roots.  Ginseng (the orange one) was a disappointment, giving me a fair harvest of long thin tubers.  North Carolina White was a good producer and I'll grow that again when I'm in the mood for white sweet potatoes.  I don't think they have the flavor of orange ones (or purple) but they are intensely sweet and make a really good foil for bitter greens.  No problem with voles in my raised beds inside the deer-groundhog fence.

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