Yes, it’s certainly fun to have the students back at uni. Although it’s true we’ve enjoyed the quiet of the summer, pottering around on our own with a few trusty gardening buddies, the return of the youthful artists of the college also means the return of a Tending VIP: Betty, our mentor, champion and great providor of cuttings and propagations!
Betty is fresh back from a trip to Laos where she reports having eaten riverweed (“a bit like seaweed but less salty”) and many other herbaceous weeds, and marvelled at the local folks’ ability to cultivate anything, anywhere – “so opportunistic“, she said. (These folks, who have a permaculture garden near Wollongong, seem to have had a similar adventure to Betty this summer. Check out their photo of the “dry season riverbank vegie garden”)…
Anyway, having returned to Rozelle, Betty was keen to rummage around and see what had been growing in her absence. She was very impressed with the rapid expansion of the bananas (and took a few “pups” home for her own garden, as well as harvesting a stack of banana leaves for use as “disposable dinner plates”).
Betty also pointed out that our sweet potatoes seem to be thriving, and why don’t we try to dig some up?
And so we did.
Here’s Diego bandicooting around for some spuds.
And LO ! Our first sweet potato of the season emerged, proudly white on the outside (purple on the inside):
And before long, another one, this time purple on the outside, white on the inside:
Betty decided this was a good sign: the time was right for us to get serious about sweet potato farming. And so this is what she told us to do (we duly followed her instructions):
-make a long thin pile of soil, about 50cm wide, and about 40cm high, with a peaked middle:
-Take cuttings from your sweet potato plants (the leafy bits not the spuds) and tie them in a circle:
-semi-bury these in the elongated soil mound. Repeat all the way along:
Et donc, voila!
That, folks, was the easiest bit of gardening we’d ever done!
The secret here, according to Betty, is to give the sweet potatoes their own bed, so that when you dig around to harvest them you’re not disturbing all their neighbours. She also said the green leaves of the sweet potatoes are good cooked, alongside amaranth (which we also have a lot of).
Later on, we were having an energetic chat with Carolyn and her friend Corinne. Corinne has just begun her PhD at Sydney College – her research is about people’s relationships to land – so of course we had a lot to talk about. While we were talking, this student emerged from the ceramic workshop, which backs onto the Tending garden. She walked around with her nose to the ground, as if trying to find something she had lost. We paused our conversation, and looked on, curious. Eventually she came upon the table in the middle of the garden where we’d left the just-harvested sweet potatoes. She picked up the smaller, purple one. Holding it up, she called to us, tentatively: “May I take this tuber?”
It turns out that she had forgotten her homework assignment – to bring a small object to make a ceramic slipcast – and that our potato was going to save her educational butt.
We gave her our blessing – with the return request, of course, for some of the clay-potato-replicas, if and when they emerge from the kiln.
Permanent 1:1 scale spud sculptures! Can’t wait to see ’em.
Diego took home the other sweet potato. I look forward to hearing how it tasted.