Sweet Summer Veggie Treats
By Wendy Mussoline, UF/IFAS Multi-County Agriculture Agent
When we have that need to satisfy our “sweet tooth” we often choose chocolate or ice cream. If we’re on a healthy kick, then we might make a better choice and satisfy our cravings with some refreshing summer fruit like watermelon, cantaloupe, or blackberries. I’d like to offer a couple more healthy options that we are currently researching at our UF/IFAS Hastings Agriculture Extension Center (HAEC) and that are readily available at your local produce markets – sweet corn and sweet potatoes.
We currently have 7 bi-color varieties and 1 yellow variety of sweet corn that will be harvested soon at the HAEC –
Affection, Obsession, Skyway, Sovereign, Seminole Sweet, Everglades, BSS-1075, and Yellowstone. The 1-acre field trial was planted on March 17, 2021, and the scheduled harvest will be on June 3rd, which is 78 days after planting. Sweet corn needs to be harvested promptly upon full maturity to ensure the proper sugar/starch ratio, depth of kernel, uniformity, etc. If it remains too many days in the field after maturity, the sugars begin to turn to starch and the sweet, juicy flavor and tender texture are compromised. The purpose of the trial is to determine the best yielding varieties in terms of quantity and quality for our specific climate and soil type in Northeast Florida. Interested growers should contact their respective UF/IFAS Agriculture County Agent (email@example.com for Putnam & Flagler; firstname.lastname@example.org for St. Johns) to participate in the scheduled harvest (June 3) and better understand the varietal differences observed in the sweet corn trial in Hastings.
Another sweet, nutritional choice is sweet potato. On May 27, 2021, we planted 10 different sweet potato varieties at the HAEC. Sweet potato slips (i.e. vine cuttings) were obtained from NC State, LSU, and CAREnergy in South Carolina. North Carolina is clearly the leader in sweet potato production, producing more sweet potatoes than all other states combined. According to the USDA/NASS, North Carolina harvested 105,300 acres of sweet potato. which resulted in 16.8 million CWT (hundred weight bags). Drs. Craig Yencho and Kenneth Pecota with NC State graciously partnered with UF on this trial and provided 7 of the 10 varieties, including two of their newest purple-flesh breeding lines. These unique varieties are growing next to “Covington”, which will serve as a baseline to see how well they perform in the sandy soils, the Florida heat, and most importantly, the Florida pests. Florida is plagued with the sweet potato weevil and certain types of nematodes (i.e. stubby and sting) that are not prevalent in North Carolina.
The trial is replicated at three different UF centers – North Florida Research and Education Center in Live Oak, Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, and right here at HAEC. For more information on the sweet potato, trials contact Dr. Zane Grabau (email@example.com) who is conducting the nematode work, or Dr. Wendy Mussoline (firstname.lastname@example.org) who is conducting the variety work.
The author is employed by UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agriculture – An Equal Opportunity Institution.