Seed Starting and Sweet Potato

I’m off to a slow start this year with my garden.  I think the chickens are taking up too much time and energy.  Well, that’s my excuse. It could also be the last late snow storms that kind of put all gardening on hold.  I hadn’t even gotten around to ordering seeds for this season.   I did finally order seeds about a week ago, from Fedco Seeds in Maine.  They arrived in the mail Yesterday, kind of like Christmas in April.

I did start some tomato seeds that I had from previous years.  Started them April 3 rd, no signs of life yet.  With old seeds I never know.  I grow a lot of different plants but not a lot of any one plant, so I have 6 recycled cookie containers with a sprinkling of seeds in each one from 6 different varieties of tomatoes.  I will transplant the best seedlings into larger containers, keeping maybe 3 of each.  I had one new variety of tomato seed in my seed order, so I planted them as soon as the mail came.

recycled cookie container with tomato seeds in potting soil

recycled cookie container with tomato seeds in potting soil

cookie container in clear plastic bag & tagged with empty seed pack

cookie container in clear plastic bag & tagged with empty seed pack

I place the started seeds into a clear plastic bag to keep the moisture constant, like their own little green house.  When they start to sprout I will remove the bag.

Tomatoes are one of the few plants that actually do better with transplanting.  I sometimes transplant them a second time into a still larger pot before setting them out into the garden.  Starting my own seeds I get to grow varieties that you can’t find normally at the nursery, like Black Cherry tomatoes, one of my favorites.

I couldn’t stop with just the tomatoes, so I also started basil, 3 different lettuce and leeks.  These I started in individual 12 packs, they will go straight into the garden when ready.

SWEET POTATO.  The sweet potato that I set up to grow slips from ended up rotting in the container of water it was in.  My wonderful wife brought me home a small sweet potato from “Whole Foods” and I set it into a container of water March 15 th.  It is doing great, roots are growing out of the bottom of it and buds are growing from the top section, some of the buds are actually slips already with little leaves.

first try 3/5/13 now rotting

first try started 3/5/13 now rotting 4/2/13

first try

first try picture taken 4/2/13

second try 3/15/13 buds showing

second try started 3/15/13 buds showing 4/2/13

second try with roots and buds

second try with roots and buds picture taken 4/2/13

I need 5 slips and should get at least that many from this one potato.  I will plant them in 5-5gallon buckets and hang them off of my deck.  The sweet potato plant all by itself is very pretty.  Guests are surprised when I tell them what they are, their green leaves and light purple flowers look like an ornamental plant.  They are,  we just get to eat the potatoes at the end of the season.

slips starting picture taken 4/6/13

slips starting picture taken 4/6/13

It is so good to be digging in the dirt again.  I moved some of my compost  (this is from the chicken run) and spread it in the East garden.  The sun was strong and felt good but the air was still cool and the wind made it even chillier.  This is why we live in New England.


  1. Unfortunately we cant do tomatoes at our altitude and climate without a greenhouse….someday maybe. I would really like you to go into more detail about how exactly you do your sweet potatoes in the buckets. We have dabbled in potatoes but never have done really well. I’d love to learn more and have better results.
    You can just use one from the store to get started? And you dangle it in a cup like your pictures? And then what? Thanks!

    • If your growing season is too cold or too short for tomatoes, you probably can’t grow sweet potatoes. I’m a little west of Boston MA. and I’m pushing it a little by growing sweet potatoes here. I, like most stubborn people, don’t like being told they can’t do something. I was told I couldn’t grow sweet potatoes this for north. Well my favorite gardening book, “Crockett’s Victory Garden” (from the 1975 PBS original victory garden show) mentions that you can and that they grow rounder potatoes when grown in a bushel basket. This advice should work for me since the original show was filmed just west of Boston in Needham MA. not too for away from me. After 2 years of limited success, well actually more failure than success, I get a very good crop of sweet potatoes growing them in buckets off my deck. When the shoots are 3 to 4 inches tall growing on the sweet potato I cut them off and put them in a small glass of water till they grow their own roots, then I pot them in potting soil till it is warm enough to plant in the buckets outside, about Memorial day. If you are diligent and take your buckets in on cold nights you might be able to make this work. The plants are pretty, growing the ships is very interesting biology and your kids might enjoy the process. One year I planted a slip directly into the garden. It grew a 6 by 6 foot plant that was lush and green and I was looking forward to a great harvest in the fall. But, every place the vine touched the ground it grew roots and started to grow a potato. With so many potatoes trying to grow from the one plant none of the potatoes were big enough to eat. I think the bucket confines the roots so that a limited number of potatoes grow. But they grow well.
      I think I got a little wordy here.

      • Not too wordy. Thanks for the help. I’ll look into it more and see if it is feasible here. We are at high elevation and have a very short growing season. But we have been somewhat successful with normal potatoes so maybe its worth a try.

    • I’m not quite sure what a slip is. I believe it is the young plant the grows on the sweet potato. You wouldn’t call it a seedling because it didn’t come from a seed. You can order sweet potato slips for planting, I never have, I don’t need many and I’m able to grow mine. I’ve tried planting sections of a sweet potato, like you would for a regular potato, and they just rotted.

  2. I just ordered my tomato seeds I hope I’m not too late. This will be my first real attempt at a garden!

    • Good for you. Start small with your garden. As soon as you get your tomato seeds plant some in some potting soil. Most people start their tomato seeds way earlier than they need to and end up with tall spindly plants. You should be fine. I try to use natural direct sun light as much as i can. I have 2 cold frames that I use for my plant nursery. If it is going to be freezing at night I will bring them into the house.

      Please tell me that the picture on your site with a pretty girl holding a CIGARETTE is not you. You’re going to grow healthy fresh vegetables while poisoning yourself with CIGARETTES. You can’t grow enough good stuff to erase the damage done by smoking.

  3. Thanks, for the tips. And I don’t smoke anymore. I’ve quit. Kudos to me! 🙂

    • I’m glad to hear that. Kudos from me too. I’m sorry if I came on too strong, I just had my yearly physical which reminds me that I have coronary artery disease. I never smoked but I know that smoking is a huge contributor to heart disease and it is something that we have control over. Again kudos to you.

      • It’s ok. But, addictions are hard. I am quit, but I still sort of think of myself as a smoker. It’s a drug and it changes your brain. I feel like I’ll always be in recovery. Heh. Not kidding. It’s best to never start. 🙂

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