Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chili-Lime Squash Chips – A Healthy Snack from the Garden

I love it when I can solve two problems at the same time, and chili-lime squash chips do that very thing for me.  First they provide me with a healthy and tasty snack; second, they give me a way to use up some of those nine-jillion extra squash that come out of my garden at this time of year.   Here’s how to make chili-lime squash chips:

First, select several large squashes (my dehydrator will hold about 5 or 6 squashes after they are sliced up).  I have used yellow squash and zucchini with equally good results.

Now, slice the squash into thin pieces, about 1/8th inch thick, and place the slices in a bowl.

Pour about a quarter cup of lime juice into the bowl and use your fingers to lightly toss the squash and coat it with lime juice.

Now you can add your spices.  I use salt, garlic, and chili powder.  How much to use is entirely up to you. Toss the squash a little more to make sure that it is evenly coated with spices.

I use a Nesco counter top dehydrator to dry out my squash chips. You can use whatever type of dehydrator that you have, or you can use your oven.  If you use an oven, set it at about 150 degrees and leave the door propped open.

To get the chips really crisp takes a long time.  I leave mine in the dehydrator for about 9 or 10 hours.
When they are nice a crunchy, I let the chips cool and then store them in plastic zip-lock bags.

I eat them with my lunch instead of potato chips, and they are really good.  If you are plagued with excess squash, give this recipe a try. I bet you’ll enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Start Your Own Sweet Potato Slips

Sweet potatoes were developed several thousand years ago by Native-American tribes in Central America.  Sweet potatoes are only very distantly related to “Irish” potatoes.  Sweet potatoes require a long growing season, warm temperatures, plenty of rainfall, and light soil.  They grow best in sandy, acidic soils.  They do not tolerate a frost.  In the tropics, sweet potatoes are a perennial plant that can be harvested as needed.  In temperate regions sweet potatoes are planted as an annual.  They will store for several months after harvest.  Sweet potatoes grow best when average temperatures are 75 degrees F or higher, and they require around 120 days to reach maturity.  The sweet potato puts out very long vines, 15 feet or more, so they require a lot of room in the garden.  Sweet potatoes have few natural enemies, and they can be grown without much in the way of fertilizers although a light dressing of 10-20-10 will help improve their production.

Unlike Irish potatoes, which are traditionally planted from seed potatoes, sweet potatoes are usually planted from slips.  The slips are small leafy shoots that grow out of mature sweet potatoes, and there are a number of different methods for growing slips.  The method that I am outlining here is the one that I consider to be the simplest.  It requires very little space and no special equipment.

First you will need two or three mature sweet potatoes to grow your slips from.  You can beg, borrow, or buy these potatoes from someone who already grows their own; or you can buy them at the grocery store.  Some store potatoes are treated with a sprouting inhibitor, but this only “inhibits” sprouting, it doesn’t stop it.  The sweet potatoes shown below were purchased from a local grocery store, and they sprouted without any problem.

Growing the slips takes a pretty long time, so you will want to start your slips about ten weeks before you plan on putting them in the ground.  In my area, slips are put in the ground from around mid-May to the first part of June.  Backing up 10 weeks from this date, I usually start growing slips around the first of March.

Growing the slips is simplicity itself.  Just take a wide mouth glass jar that your sweet potato will fit down into.  Hold your sweet potato upright and stick four, evenly spaced, tooth picks about half-way up the potato, and set the potato into the jar.  The toothpicks will support the potato so that it doesn’t rest on the bottom of the jar.  Now fill the jar with water to about a ¼ inch from the top.  You should now have the bottom half of your potato submerged in the water and the top half sticking up out of the jar.  Set the jar in a sunny window and wait.

And wait……and wait……..  You will be convinced that this is not going to work; you will be tempted to throw everything into the trash and forget it, but be patient.  During this waiting time the water in your jar will probably start to turn green.  When it does, empty the water out and refill the jar with fresh water.  By the way, I have a water well; so my water doesn’t have any chemicals in it.  I don’t know if treated, city water might affect the slip growing process.  If you are using city water you might need to run a bucket full and let it sit for a few days before using it on your slips; or you could catch rain water to use.

So, back to the process.  After two or three weeks you will begin to see little white spindly roots growing out of the underwater portion of the potato. The roots pictured below are already well established. 
A few days later you will notice small purple buds appearing on the un-submerged part of the potato.  Your slips are about to take off.

As the slips and roots begin to grow they will start drinking up the water in your jars.  You will probably not have the water-turning-green problem anymore, but you will have to check your jars daily and keep them topped up with water.  You don’t need to add any fertilizer or plant food to the water.  The slips are feeding off of the nutrients stored in the mother potato. 

When the slips are four to six inches tall and have several leaves growing on them, you can begin to harvest the slips.  Just break a slip off right up next to the mother potato and then place the slips in another jar that has a couple of inches of water in the bottom.  In this jar the slips will begin to sprout their own roots.

You will get many slips from one mother potato over an extended period of time.  When I have fifteen or so slips in the rooting jar, I start putting them in the ground.  

The mother potatoes will continue to produce slips, and you can continue rooting and planting them.  As long as you still have 120 days to the first frost, any slips that you plant will grow to maturity and produce potatoes. The slips pictured below have been in the ground for a little less than two weeks.  They are well established and ready to grow into good sweet potatoes.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sweet Potatoes as a Long-Term Preparedness Food

Irish potatoes are fun to plant in the garden and fresh from the garden potatoes taste way better than what you buy in the store.  Irish potatoes are planted from seed potatoes that are cut into small sections, each section containing a sprout or so-called “eye.”  What you are doing is actually cloning the original seed potato.  Many gardeners here in the southern United States plant one crop of Irish potatoes in the spring, save some of the potatoes for seed, and plant another crop in the fall.  This will work for a year, and if you are lucky you may be able to plant several generations from the original seed, but eventually you will have problems.  You see, “Irish” potatoes aren’t Irish at all.  They were developed by Native-America tribes in the high mountains of South America, and this is their natural environment.  When you try to raise generation after generation of Irish potatoes in the warm, humid climate of the southern United States they will eventually develop diseases that they do not have a historic immunity to.  Witness the fact that most seed potatoes in the U.S. come from the high and dry states of Montana and Idaho.

Sweet potatoes are the traditional potato crop of the South.  Sweet potatoes are also a Native-American plant; but, unlike the Irish potato, sweet potatoes were developed in the warm, humid climate of tropical Central America.  The long, hot growing season, the acid soil, and the abundant rainfall of the South are ideal for growing sweet potatoes; and they can be cloned for generation after generation without problems.  This makes sweet potatoes an ideal long-term survival crop for the southeastern United States.

Because they require a very long growing season, raising sweet potatoes is more problematic in northern latitudes; but it can be done.  Starting young vines in cloches or starting them in a greenhouse and transplanting them when the weather warms make it possible to raise sweet potatoes in cooler climates.  The one thing that you definitely must have in order to produce good tubers is loose soil.  Sweet potatoes do not do well in heavy, clay soils.  They need loose sandy soil to give the tubers room to expand and fill out.

In my next post I will show you how to get a bed of sweet potatoes started