The garden is a great place to practice curiosity and making no assumptions. Some years a plant or a method or an experiment works, some years – even the next year - it may not. We have just started using a new kind of potting soil because the mix we have used for years, quite successfully, sprouted seedlings this summer and fall that then failed to grow. Next year brand X may work again, but for now, we’re giving brand Y a try.
Bed #4 is a mystery. In some seasons transplants there have failed to thrive. Moved to a different bed, they have flourished. Last summer and fall, cover crop and broccoli and kale grew abundantly, large and gorgeous and green. The sweet potato slips planted later pretty much just sat there. The potatoes that did grow were about the size of a thumb.
We did learn some things about sweet potatoes last year, not from bed #4. We dug out a whole new bed for them partly down a hillside below a swale. It was our first venture with sweet potatoes and we didn’t appreciate how they actually grow. The slips, which sprout from partially immersed potatoes, were fabulous! Some of them were a foot tall, and each potato produced many. Once in the new bed, the slips turned into a dense forest of green leaves. We were excited when harvest time came. There were quite a few potatoes, but they too were fairly small. They are tasty – a slice or two lengthwise and they become great fries. But we were anticipating potatoes a lot bigger.
What we speculate is that the new bed was not deep enough. This is The Motherlode: dig down a few inches and you hit rock. That is why most of our beds are raised. Sweet potatoes often grow down, often in a bunch rather like bananas. They need more than a few vertical inches. So this year we will select a good, deep raised bed and try again.
Try again. Try again and see what happens. Whatever happens, do not assume it will happen next time. That could be a garden T-shirt. For that matter, of course, it could be a Practice T-shirt.
Whenever I’m tempted to think I Know, there is a handy corrective: Remember bed #4.