Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Is a Yam a Sweet Potato?


While enjoying the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, some people may ask, "What is the difference between yams and sweet potatoes?"  Are they the same 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. Yams and sweet potatoes however, 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. Yams, on the other hand, are a monocot, closely related to grasses. 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. 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. 

Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard are orange fleshed sweet potatoes that  masquerade as yams in the local supermarkets.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Why Squash Plants Produce Lots of Bloom But Little Fruit


 
 Squash, along with melons and cucumbers belong to the same plant family called cucurbits (cucurbitaceae). These vegetable plants bear two kinds of flowers on the same plant, male and female.  In order to produce fruit, the pollen from the male flower must be transferred to the female flower. Since the pollen of cucurbits is sticky, wind-blown pollination will not occur. Instead, insects do the major pollination work –honeybees being the main workers.  So, if bees aren’t frequenting your garden, for whatever reason, the fruit set on your squash, cucumbers and melons will be poor. 

Hand pollination, although a tedious chore, can be accomplished by transferring the pollen from the male flower to the female flower, often done with a small artist’s paintbrush.  Female flowers can easily be distinguished from the males by the presence of a miniature fruit at the base of the flower. 

Sometimes gardeners are concerned because none of the first blooms produce  fruit.  This is because the first flowers produced on the plants will be male. In time, female flowers are produced.  Also remember that cucumbers, melons and squash do not cross-pollinate; a cucumber will not cross with a melon; a squash will not cross with a cucumber, etc.  But within each species, cross pollination often occurs. A zucchini squash can pollinate a crookneck squash, and a Crenshaw melon can pollinate a Casaba melon.  Planting the seeds from these crosses will produce fruit that will be different from either parent.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Composting Produces Good Organic Matter

By following some simple rules you can speed up the processing time and produce good compost in one to two months. Some ‘experts’ can even turn a pile of garden waste into nice compost in as little as 14 days.  Here are the essentials:

A. Proper moisture and air (oxygen) content - Compost works best if the moisture content of the materials is about 50%. That’s not easy to measure, but it has been estimated to be about the moisture content of a wrung-out sponge.  If the material is too dry, decomposition will stop; if too wet, oxygen becomes limited, decomposition slows, and foul odors will be produced.

B. Proper carbon/nitrogen ration - For effective composting, the raw materials must have a proper carbon/nitrogen ratio – set at about 30:1.  Since this cannot be easily measured, experience has shown that mixing equal volumes of green and brown plant material will give this ratio. The 'greens' are fresh, moist materials like grass clippings, weeds, manures and kitchen scraps. The 'browns' are dry materials such as twigs, wood chips, straw, saw dust and paper.  If a pile of twigs are thrown to the side, they will eventually decompose. But when leaves (greens) are combined with the twigs (browns) in the proper ratios, the organic matter will decompose more quickly.    

Mixing the greens with the browns is not only good for obtaining the proper ratio, but also helps to maintain a good oxygen level.  Grass clippings alone (shredded paper too) tend to mat and exclude oxygen.  Adding twigs helps to open the pile allowing a better movement of air.   

C. Proper size of material - Soft, succulent plant tissue does not need to be chopped into small pieces because it will decompose rapidly.  However, the harder to decompose woody materials will compost best if pieces are ½ to 1 ½ inches in size: the smaller the pieces the quicker the decomposition.

D. Proper pile size - The size of the compost pile is important.  The minimal size is 3 cubic feet (3x3x3). Maximum size would be around 5x5 and as long as you want it.

E. Proper turning - Turning the pile is not required, but will certainly speed up the process; turn any time from every day to every10 days. Turning helps ensure proper air circulation along with good moisture and heat distribution. 

Finally, here’s how to know when the composting process is finished: when the majority of the pile has become dark, loose, crumbly and sweet smelling.  Also, the original ingredients will not be recognizable with the exception of a few pieces of tough woody material. Composting is a good way to reuse our natural resources, recycle nutrients and add good organic matter back into the soil.