Friday, November 27, 2015

When is a Yam a Sweet Potato?

What is the difference between yams and sweet potatoes?  Are they the same, yet by a different name?
Many years ago orange colored sweet potatoes were introduced to the Southern United States. In an effort to distinguish these from the traditional white-fleshed potato, producers called them yams, which is the Anglicize African word, nyami. Today, most of the starchy tubers consumed in the US and labeled as yams are in reality sweet potatoes. Yet yams and sweet potatoes are not the same; in fact, they are quite different from each other. 

As far as botanical order is concerned, they are at opposite ends. The sweet potato is a dicot, set in the morning glory family. The sweet potato, whose sweet and moist flesh varies in color from white to yellow and orange, is native to South America; the skin is typically smooth. Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard are orange fleshed sweet potatoes that often masquerade as yams in the local supermarkets.

 Yams, on the other hand, are a monocot, closely related to grasses. In contrast, yams are dry and starchy and rather bland. While yellow or purple in color, the skin is rough and a bit shaggy. Yams are native to North Africa and Asia. They range in size from that of a small potato up to 150 lbs. Yams are a primary agricultural crop in West Africa, where 95 percent of the world's yam crop is grown.  Incidentally, both yams and sweet potatoes can be purple.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sandalwood Trees in Hawaii

Sandalwood trees (Santalum sp.) are classified as hemi-parasites. The term describes a plant that is green and can produce its own food but also derives water and some nutrients by attaching to the roots of other plants. This process can effectively join together whole plant communities through their root systems. The plants that donate nutrients to sandalwood are called hosts; sandalwood trees do not grow well without a host. In fact, this ‘inter-cropping’ is not only possible but necessary. 

According to the publication, Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry, S. ellipticum, one of four species known as Hawaiian sandalwood, can “… successfully develop into relatively large individuals when growing with endemic species such as Wikstroemia sandwicensis (‘ākia) and a fan palm Pritchardia remota (loulu) in windward, lowland areas. In more xeric (dry) environments it has developed successfully in association with the endemic shrub Chenopodium oahuense (‘āheahea) and Chamaesyce hypericifolia. Apparently S. ellipticum, is flexible in the species it can parasitize for needed nutrients.”
Santalum ellipticum is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. It is found as a sprawling to bushy shrub near the ocean shore. It is occasionally found as a larger shrub to small tree in dry gulches, on slopes, and frequently in rocky habitats. S. ellipticum is adapted to arid habitats with typical summer drought in leeward lowland locations.
Hawaiian sandalwood species generally resist most insect attack; sometimes infestations of whitefly or scale insects can be found. Insecticidal soap may be used to treat such infestations. Slugs and snails will also feed on newly sprouted plants. The trees generally tolerate a broad range of soil conditions but show a preference for well drained neutral to slightly alkaline soils.  Since many Hawaiian soils tend to be acidic, an application of lime would be appropriate to bring the soil closer to neutral. The wood of the sandalwood trees is often used for carving handicrafts, art, musical instruments and decorative furniture.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mulch with Wood Chips

 Mulch placed around plants is a good way to conserve soil moisture. Plants that have a layer of mulch over their roots will manage better in a drought situation. Wood chips, when available, make an excellent mulch for other reasons also. 

  • A wood mulch layer can help prevent diseases by keeping fruit like strawberries and tomatoes, from touching the fungal infested ground. The same mulch layer will create a barrier, preventing rot causing fungal spores from splashing up onto low growing citrus fruit. Wood mulches also produce chemical compounds that inhibit the growth of disease causing fungi. Furthermore, a layer of mulch will help to control erosion and reduce weeds. Apply at least 4 inches for good weed control.

When incorporating large quantities of non-composted wood products like sawdust and wood chips into the soil, it’s a good idea to add a little high nitrogen fertilizer to prevent a nitrogen deficiency.  This can happen because bacteria require nitrogen as they break down the wood and will take it from the soil. It is only temporary though, because as the bacteria die, they will release the nitrogen. This is especially important for newly planted annuals like flowers and vegetables. Established trees and shrubs, however, have a large enough root system to obtain nitrogen from deeper depths.