Harvest Monday, March 18, 2013 – Starting Sweet Potatoes Slip + Seed Starting Mix Update + Garden Tip

Started rooting sweet potatoes slips for Locust Grove Heritage Garden where I am a volunteer. Because of major issues with sweet potatoes loving critters in my garden last year, I have decided not to grow any this year.

Rooting sweet potatoes

Left to right: frazier white, Georgia jet, laceleaf and purple
The above tubers are from my garden friend, Mary N, also a LGHVG volunteer.

To know which end of the sweet potato should be immersed in water, click here.

In my 3/4/13 post (scroll down), I promised an update on my seed starting mixes. Were there any differences in the germination and the overall health of the seedlings?

As you can see from the photos below, the answer is yes. There is definitely a difference between the cocoplug and the pro-mix.

Seeds planted in the cocoplug and pro-mix germinated at the same time, but the seedlings in the pro-mix grew at a faster rate, are more robust and healthier looking.

Ping Tung Chinese Eggplant

Ping Tung Eggplants
left, cocoplugs, right, pro-mix

Chinese Celery

Chinese Celery
left, cocoplugs, right, pro-mix

Started more seeds in cell packs – rosa bianca eggplants, Scotch bonnet peppers, leeks and celeriac.
Started seeds in 2 windowboxes – salad blend and spinach.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Garden Tip – Taking Care of Cutworms

It is still very cold in the Hudson Valley (had a coating of snow last night and snow is  in the forecast for tomorrow, Tuesday). Will be a few  weeks before any seedlings can be transplanted into my garden, but many of you who are already transplanting may find this tip on Taking Care of Cutworms useful.

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Copyright © by Norma Chang. All Rights Reserved. Do not use/repost any photos and/o r articles without permission.

Visit Daphne’s Dandelions http://daphnesdandelions.blogspot.com/ for more Harvest Mondays

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About Norma Chang

I am the author/publisher of 2 user-friendly Chinese cookbooks: "My Students' Favorite Chinese Recipes (updated edition)" and "Wokking Your Way to Low Fat Cooking" A gardener who enjoys cooking and eating and loves to think outside the box A garden volunteer at Locust Grove Heritage Vegetable Garden Conduct hands-on cooking workshops for teenagers Conduct cultural programs for children and family Conduct healthy cooking classes for adults
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65 Responses to Harvest Monday, March 18, 2013 – Starting Sweet Potatoes Slip + Seed Starting Mix Update + Garden Tip

  1. kate says:

    I tried using coconut coir to start seedlings once and the seedlings just seemed to stall after they sprouted. I’ve never done a side by side comparison though. You’ve confirmed my suspicions, and I’m glad I’ve gone back to using a mix with some compost in it. Thank you!

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Kate,
      I was surprised at the outcome. I think it has to do with aeration. Had noticed that the cocoplugs once soaked and expanded was very dense. Wonder if mixing in some perlite or vermiculite would help as that would loosen it and help with drainage and air exchange.

  2. I’ve had the same experience. I’m glad that you confirmed it was the product and not the gardener. 🙂

  3. cocomino says:

    The first photo is so cute, somehow. 🙂

  4. Lea says:

    We love sweet potatoes! Interesting to see how slips are started. Thanks for the tip on preventing cut worms, too – so simple, so easy!.
    Lea
    Lea’s Menagerie

  5. kitsapfg says:

    Definitely a big difference. I suspicion the coconut coir is better as a garden soil amendment (in reasonable amounts) than a germinating medium, but I would want to try it in that role in limited doses first to make sure it does not have similar “not so great” results.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Laura,
      I plan to combine the remaining coconut coir with potting mix in my windowbox as it does retain moisture better. The ratio is what I need to work out.

  6. That’s a huge difference between the two growing mediums. We used a plug type of product our first year starting seed and, looking back, I really think our less-than-stellar results were the fault of the plugs, not the gardener 🙂

  7. Very interesting about the coco plugs – thank you for sharing your results! We will be trying our hand at sweet potatoes again this year. Fingers crossed…

  8. Daphne says:

    I use the Vermont Compost Company Fort V mix and I’ve never found one that grows things better than that one. It is hard to find though. I’ve even tried making my own, but it just isn’t as good. Never tried a coco plug though.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Daphne,
      I will check to see if my garden center carries Vermont Compost Company Fort V mix to make a comparison with Pro-mix which is readily available and I am happy with.

  9. Diana says:

    Oppss I forgot to sow ping tung until I saw your babies.

  10. Eva Taylor says:

    Hi Norma, do you think the difference in the plugs is because the one is a lot older than the other? I use pro mix for my planters and notice a difference if I just use regular soil or no name brands. My plants definitely come out much stronger with the pro mix. We’re expecting some snow this afternoon too, I am very tired of it. I noticed that most things are budding beautifully, I hope the snow will not hurt them.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Eva,
      No, nothing to do with age I think it has to do with aeration. The wet coco plug is very dense and retains too much moisture which I believe suffocates the seedlings. Adding perlite or vermiculite would lighten and aerate it. Looks like it is going to snow any minute and expecting to continue into tomorrow, blah.

  11. I hope the warm weather starts moving in soon Norma! Everything is blooming and green here and people have started their Spring plantings already!

  12. I have tried growing the sweet potatoes before, but it didn’t work…not enough of sunshine..thanks for sharing the gardening tips, Norma.

  13. pooks says:

    Uh-oh. Since I used coir for my seedlings and also when I transplanted them, I’d better be liberal with the fertilizer. Thanks for posting those pictures.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Pooks,
      I don’t think being liberal with fertilizer will be good. You probably noticed that when the coir is wet it is very dense and water retentive my take to lighten it would be to mix in some perlite or vermiculite or compost. That’s what I want to try next.

      • pooks says:

        There must be some difference between the block of coir that you soak in water for 10 minutes and the plugs. The blocks form a very light mixture, very aerated. I don’t have a problem with it being dense or staying wet. Interesting.

      • Norma Chang says:

        Hello Pooks,
        You are correct, it is not the density or the wet issue, it has to do with chemical composition, check out Dave’s SFG comment.

  14. I was thinking about planting one potato plant in a really big pot for the kids to have fun digging up potatoes.
    I will try to root one and give that a try and I’ll let you know how it goes

  15. Interesting. Have you done a comparison of coir vs peat moss in the garden? I want to support the use of coir as renewable resource but I have to order it online….so am debating what to do…

  16. ChgoJohn says:

    I appreciate all of your testing you do, Norma, and it must be gratifying to see such different results. Your future gardens will only benefit. I remember starting sweet potatoes as a boy, just as you’ve done, for a school project. Thanks for the memory! 🙂

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello John,
      I was very surprised at the results, thought the cocoplugs would give better results.
      Glad my sweet potatoes led you on a trip down memory lane, amazing how little things bring back fond memories.

  17. Norma, we’ve come to the same conclusion about those plugs – our seedlings never do as well in them either! It’s interesting about the sweet potatoes – we always thought that once they were in your garden, they were there forever, which is why we’ve never been game to plant them! 🙂

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Celia,
      Will you consider planting sweet potatoes again? Of the 4 varieties I am starting, the purple is my favorite, it has a drier texture andd remains purple after cooking, so pretty.

  18. I used to start my potatoes like this when I lived in Florida. I loved growing sweet potatoes but made the mistake one year of not harvesting them in a timely manner and they grew to nearly the size of a volkswagen. 🙂

  19. mac says:

    Interesting comparison, I’ve also bought so cocoplugs couple years ago but never got the motivation to use it, I think I’m going to throw them into my raised beds, one less headache 🙂

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Mac,
      I still have some plugs, since they retain moisture I plan to incorporate them into my windowboxes to see if I can cut down on the frequency of watering.

  20. Dave's SFG says:

    Norma, I had a similar experience last year with coir, both plugs and mix. Unlike you, I didn’t do a comparison, I just naively assumed the stuff was OK. As a result, my growing season was impacted and in many cases I had to buy replacement plants (see my blog article: http://davessfggarden.blogspot.com/2012/06/seed-starting-woes.html). I can say that your stunted plants will not improve with time or fertilizer, only with getting them out of the coir and into another starting medium. I swore off the stuff last year. This past weekend I started my Ping Tung eggplant in Johnny’s 512 mix and I’m hoping they do as well as yours always do,

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Dave,
      Thanks for the links. I was going to add the cocoplugs I still have to my windowboxes mix but after reading your experience and the other study, I will not be doing so. Sure glad my brain was working on that day and I did a comparison seeding. Hope you will write about your experience with Johnny’s 512 mix and how your Ping Tung egplants fare.

  21. Looks great, Norma…I know where I’m going for the zombie apocalypse!

  22. YAY so glad you’re growing sweet pototaes they are my favourite 🙂

  23. Dave says:

    Great information about starting sweet potato slips Norma!

    I’m not familiar with the cocoplugs. I am using coco coir to germinate seedlings and it is doing fine. Like peat moss, it has no nutrients so I don’t leave it in the coir for more than a couple of weeks before transplanting to a potting soil with some compost in it. I understand that there is a lot of difference in brands of the coir. I am thinking the cocoplugs were compacted too much, and possibly not the best quality coir.

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hllo Dave,
      Thanks and happy spring from snow covered Hudson Valley.
      I am debating whether to add some perlite or vermiculite to loosen up the dense cocoplug. May not be able to play around with it as old man winter has put me way behind with outdoor activities, grounds covered with few inches of snow again and more may be on the way.

  24. I”m behind on starting seeds. The snow may be slowing me down. I definitely need to get mine going this week so they’re ready to go in May. The potatoes at the top are perfect! So helpful, Norma.

  25. Sophie33 says:

    My little plants of courgettes failed me, their stem got cracked into two,…Big sigh! I only have left 1 big good pumpkin plant! I will start my 2 courgette plants later on! It is snowing again over here! 😦
    Thanks for this post! xxx

  26. Purely.. Kay says:

    I just wish I could garden because your potatoes look awesome. I just hope the weather gets warmer soon.

  27. juliana says:

    Yes Norma, such a big difference in growth…amazing…and the potatoes are so cute in the jars
    Hope you are having a fund week 🙂

  28. I wonder if this is the same ProMix we would get here in Canada. I never thought to be picky about the mix I use.. it would probably work on flowers as well?

  29. Sweet potato growing using this method sound fascinating. I had no idea. I could even do that in my apartment in HK. On a very side note my husband just brought back a Thai basil plant from Bangkok…and thai basil seeds…so excited. So going to be asking lots more questions. Take care, BAM

  30. On the first picture it looks like a little puppets. So sweet 🙂

  31. sky says:

    Hello Norma, you had been a great help to me in the past on starting slips, which had always failed me before & on how to start them in the right direction, well after many are rooted and slips are growing at a pace–my problem now is that many of the leaves on the slips have dulled and are pale green and some have brown on the edges, this is so with the ones still in water and ones in earth, the few still on the potato itself are fine & healthy, it’s after i twist them off and place in water, by the way the root systems are strong and healthy–just the leaves not happy, help again if you would be so kind, thanks sky

    • Norma Chang says:

      Hello Sky,
      Never experienced that problem before so am not of much help. Are you using a potting mix? Sounds like you have quite a bit of slips, what if you try rooting some of the slips directly in potting mix (from the potato to the potting mix and skip the water rooting step).
      If the root systems of the existing slips are strong and healthy, perhaps the leaves will be happy once planted into the ground. Do keep me updated.

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