I cried over my sweet potatoes yesterday. Yep, you heard me right. I sobbed like a little baby over my sad little sweet potato harvest. And here’s the sad truth about gardening and life; sometimes, you are going to fail year after year, after year.
This is my fifth consecutive year planting sweet potatoes in our garden. Well, kinda in the garden. The first year I planted them, I put the slips in the ground and the grew the tiniest of potatoes all in a snarled mess. And, at that point in time, I didn’t know you needed to cure sweet potatoes to bring out the natural sugars so we ate starchy, flavorless sweet potatoes.
Year two I decided to plant them in containers, this time in full sun, and they preformed marvelously. Which basically meant that I finally had potatoes that grew and produced a crop. And now I knew you had to cure them.
Year three, well, I can’t remember what I did.
Year four, I ran out of room in the main garden area so I found random tubs I had lying around, threw some soil in and placed them in our front landscaping. But, I forgot to drill holes in the bottom of two of the tubs and we had one of the wettest years I’ve experienced since I began gardening. My potatoes flooded time after time. Luckily, I had thrown some in a grow bag as well and those did okay. They didn’t have quite enough sun so they were a bit small but now I had a plan to grow the best sweet potato crop I’d ever grown the following year.
Year five, this year, I planted seven 45 gallon grow bags of sweet potato slips and placed them in a prime location in our side garden area. Lots of sun, great rains in the beginning of the season, and I remembered to water them when it stopped raining. They were looking amazing. Storage roots, the part of the plant you eat, were forming fantastically. I decided to give them a little boost with a natural fertilizer, only to find a few days later that it must have had some weevil eggs in it and the little grubs were now in the prime location to hatch, and eat my potatoes. Thankfully, I caught it soon enough that I was able to meticulously remove all the horribly gross grubs. Or so I thought. Come harvest time I would find they did more damage than I originally thought.
Harvest time arrived.
It was forecasted to get wet and cold for an extended amount of time but we had made it to mid September which was rather impressive for Minnesota. I excitedly dug up my sweet potatoes. While the harvest wasn’t awful, it was nowhere near what I was expecting to find. After five years of trying to grow enough sweet potatoes to last us all winter, I felt defeated. Especially after I helped my mother-in-law dig up some of her sweet potatoes. Hers, needless to say, out preformed mine significantly. To top it off, she planted them exactly how I taught her with my leftover slips.
So yes, I sobbed like a little baby.
Suddenly, all I could think about were all the failures the garden had this year. Most of our melons and squash failed to produce a crop. My grapes failed to produce grapes. Our beets started off great but then decided to die from disease. The artichokes (another plant I’ve tried to grow for years) after finally surviving long enough to produce, ended up when chokes unfit to harvest, probably eaten by some critter before they had a chance to develop well.
Our corn blew over four times in the multiple storms we had. The last time, it blew over right as it was developing tassels, which meant no corn for us. Half our onion crop failed, and to top it off, I was forced to pulled our cucumbers out two months early due to disease. Ugh. All this being said, it was a horrible year in our area for the growing of food. Many gardens failed. June felt as though we lived in the tropics and the land of 10,000 lakes became the land of…..well, many more lakes.
I was feeling totally defeated and wanted to just walk away from growing sweet potatoes for good. Then, my husband said something that reminded me why I do what I do.
” What about all the people who don’t have the space and ideal place to grow sweet potatoes. You have the opportunity to keep getting creative and develop a unique way to grow them. You can’t give up.”
Of course, at the time, I was having a sweet potato melt down, trying to be grateful for the crops that did produce abundantly, and the last thing I wanted to hear was, try again next year. But, it stuck in my brain. Soon my mind was racing with new ideas.
One important thing I decided to do was list all the things that did produce abundantly. Crops like tomatoes, beans, carrots, potatoes, half the onions, herbs, peppers, sunflower seeds (although the birds are highly enjoying those), asparagus, kohlrabi, rhubarb, Brussels sprouts, raspberries, strawberries, peas, kale, lettuce, and eggplant.
The truth about gardening and life is, sometimes you will fail over and over again. You have two choices when that happens. You can either quit, or learn from your mistakes, seek out the things that you can be grateful for and keep pressing forward.
Today I choose to be grateful. Grateful for the abundant harvest God has blessed us with, and that we have been able to share our abundance with those whose gardens didn’t survive the floods. And, even though it wasn’t the sweet potato harvest I was hoping for, it was the most we’ve ever grown.