A Sweet Surprise

I have tried to grow sweet potatoes several times over my many years of gardening, but with little success. Once I harvested a handful out of a half whiskey barrel in a greenhouse, but that was it.

I tried starting my own slips from organic store bought potatoes that were probably terrible variety choices for our northern climate. That didn’t work out at all. Twice I ordered slips from Nova Scotia to be shipped clear across Canada because the variety was supposed to be cold climate friendly. Or as cold climate friendly as a heat loving sweet potato can get.

Unfortunately the first time the slips arrived they were put into our rural group mailbox located about a mile from our house during a week where the nighttime temperatures were dropping below zero. More unfortunately, I didn’t always pick up the mail on the same day it was delivered. The 12 precious slips camped out in the mailbox for at least one entire night and maybe as many as three.

They may have been suited for a colder climate, but not that kind of a colder climate. I tried to revive them but it was all for naught. The next year I tried again, this time picking up the mail every single mail day morning without fail. That was the year I managed to harvest a handful from the whiskey barrel. And then we moved.

I don’t have a greenhouse (yet) at our new (to us) house so I didn’t bother ordering any slips.

And yet…I have a sweet potato all the same!

When I went out to the compost bin today I spotted this poking out of a tiny slit in the side of the bin…

Here’s a look at the whole bin…you can just make out the leaves poking out two ridges down on the right.

It’s been awhile, but I am ninety percent sure it is a sweet potato. It must have hatched out of a peel that got tossed into the compost.

So now it’s a bit of a dilemma. The bin is full and has been cooking at full throttle for about a week, but in the last few days it has slowly started cooling down.

I know this because I have one of those garden nerd compost thermometers that look exactly like something you would use if you were cooking a turkey for a giant. It has a button thermometer attached to a foot long steel skewer that you insert into the bin. The thermometer shows when the compost is in the cooking zone, when it is hot and when it is cold.

My compost just tickled the underside of getting hot before it started falling back down into the cooking zone. This means it is time to fork the compost about, give it a few turns and put it all back in to heat up and cook some more.

But then out sprouts what I think is a sweet potato leaf.

I love sweet potatoes. Obviously. Which is how so many peels got into the compost in the first place and why I keep trying to grow them.

So now I am thinking if I just leave it alone it might like growing in the compost bin. It’s certainly warm enough, and even as it cools down the black walls should keep the roots nice and cozy without frying them. Since it has popped out fairly high up the bin, that would allow for all kinds of potatoes to grow below.

However, if I want to make a few batches of compost this summer I need to turn the contents often and hurry things along so I have enough compost to amend all my beds in the fall.

So which do I want more…sweet potatoes maybe or compost for certain?

I am not a gambler and my motto has always been a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but I think I will take a chance on this one. I will just have to start another compost bin/pile elsewhere.

Who knows? Maybe by chance my compost bin has discovered a whole new way to grow sweet potatoes in the north without a greenhouse.

Fingers crossed.