Saturday, January 31, 2009

Buying Sweet Potato Seedlings

Do you buy sweet potato seedlings? Or do you prefer to sprout your own sweet potatoes?

I always thought of sprouting sweet potatoes as an elementary school project. But apparently that's what some gardeners do to plant their sweet potatoes.

I guess that makes me a lazy gardener. I get my plants from a small, family-owned business in Tennessee that makes me smile every time I think of them growing my little Beauregards. Here's a picture of them, the folks who run the Steele Plant Company in Gleason, TN.

"Everyone pictured here just hopes that you will send us your order this year so we can send you plants that will help you have the most enjoyable gardening experience you have ever had," says the literature I recently received in the mail. It comes printed on thin newsprint, like your local monthly shopper, with pictures of the storage house and the packing facility and one of the potato fields.

There are also photos of the founders, W. Claude Steele, a produce man, and Dudley Sanders, a school teacher. According to the company's website, the two men started the business as a second source of income. It grew into a full-time affair that has lasted 56 years.

Last year when I ordered I spoke to someone on the phone and he was pretty glum. The weather in Gleason had been cold and wet and they were just barely getting their plants ready in time for shipping. Steele Plant has at least six different shipping dates, tailored to different climate zones around the country.

Along with onions, the company sells several different types of sweet potatoes, including white sweet potatoes and a deep red Japanese variety called "Taste of the Orient." This year I'll be sticking with Beauregard. We had excellent results with it last year (not so much with the white variety we tried). We'll be getting 25 plants, which should keep us in sweet potatoes for months. With each order comes a16-page booklet with four pages of growing and storage instructions and 12 pages of "prize winning recipes...cakes, pies, pudding,custard, casseroles, cobblers."

This year we might even visit the annual sweet potato festival in Gleason, otherwise known as the "Tatertown Special." "This community affair draws thousands back home to their roots to renew old friendships and make new acquaintances," the bulletin declares. "Parades, old-fashioned Gospel singings, arts and crafts, and other activities make for a fun-filled weekend. You might even see Gleason's most famous citizen--Mike Snider, member of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville!!!"

Isn't it comforting to know that somewhere in America they are still holding an annual sweet potato festival?

Thank you, Steele Plant Company. I will be dropping my order in the mail today.


Anonymous said...

Have you seen Sand Hill heirloom sweet potatoes? Great prices, and a million varieties in about five colors. I'm reaching waaaaay beyond Beauregard this year...

Ed Bruske said...

Emily, thanks so much for that link. I have to tell you, we've been extremely happy with our Beauregards. Which are the varieties you like better and why?

Sylvie said...

I am lazy too, I get the slips. This year, I ordered 50 Beauregard from Jonnhy's seeds. Reasonable price, and it made sense postage wise, since I was ordering agrofabrics. Like you, I found that the white varieties did not well for me either. Maybe I'll try others another time, but next year I want something reliable that matures fairly early so I can cure them well.

Thanks for the tips about Steel Pant Co. I bookmarked them for next year.


Anonymous said...

My faves to eat are garnet types, but I haven't grown any yet. I'm going to get a mix and see what happens!