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Morrow woman’s garden grows uncommon sweet potatoes

Photo by Curt Yeomans
Morrow resident, Ida Harris-Johnson, said she was surprised when she pulled these large sweet potatoes from her backyard garden. A horticulture expert said the sizes are uncommon, but not abnormal.

Photo by Curt Yeomans Morrow resident, Ida Harris-Johnson, said she was surprised when she pulled these large sweet potatoes from her backyard garden. A horticulture expert said the sizes are uncommon, but not abnormal.

Morrow resident, Ida Harris-Johnson, just wanted to show her grandchildren how a garden works, but she said even she was surprised by the results she got from her sweet potatoes.

Harris-Johnson, 66, said she had never grown sweet potatoes before this year, even though she grew up on a farm in Forkland, Ala. She planted six sweet potato plants in May, in a small garden, which was about the size of an office desk, in her back yard.

Those sweet potatoes grew and grew. And, they grew some more, and one-third of the potatoes she planted became very large, and one became abnormally shaped, before the grandmother finally pulled them from her garden.

She brought some of her sweet potatoes to a reporter on Tuesday, and he measured two of them. One, shaped like a football, measured approximately 8-and-a-half inches long, and about 14-and-a-half inches around. Another, which had wrapped around itself, resembles a mother holding a child, and measured in the neighborhood of 24, to 26 inches in length.

She later said the football-shaped sweet potato weighs approximately 4 pounds, while the abnormally shaped potato weighs roughly 3-and-a-half pounds.

“I’ve never seen sweet potatoes like this before,” Harris-Johnson said. She later added, “I just wanted my grandchildren to see how things grow. I never expected them to get this big.”

The size of Harris-Johnson’s two sweet potatoes are uncommon, but not necessarily abnormal, according to Tom Bonnell, a horticulture program assistant from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service’s Clayton County office.

He said Harris-Johnson’s case sounded to him like a case of “everything just lining up perfectly,” resulting in large potatoes.

He added, however, there is no set average size for sweet potatoes.

“You’ll find a monster in every field,” Bonnell said. “You might get one that is really huge, but not all of them will be.”

Harris-Johnson said she did not do anything that she considered special to make the sweet potatoes grow as big as they eventually became. “I just watered them two, to three times a week,” she said. She also said she tilled her garden before planting anything in it, and used regular potting soil.

The grandmother said she also grew collard greens, large cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, cayenne peppers, bell peppers, watermelons, bush beans and okra in the same garden, at the same time, with the sweet potatoes.

Bonnell said there is no set method that can cause sweet potatoes to grow to be as large as those grown by Harris-Johnson. He added, however, that hard soil, or rocks in the soil could have caused one of her sweet potatoes to be wrapped around itself.

“If it runs into a rock, or hard soil, it’s going to want to take the path of least resistance,” Bonnell said. “So, it will change directions and end up with an unusual shape.”

For now, Harris-Johnson is undecided about what she will do with her large sweet potatoes. She said she may put them on display, or put them in jars, to preserve them.

Bonnell suggested what may be a tastier alternative, however. “You could make a really big sweet potato pie,” he said.