Roots!

Sweet potatoes--photo copyright Anne Underwood EnslowWhat do you do with self-watering containers when winter arrives? You pull up the vegetables, empty out the soil, and pour out the water in the reservoir underneath to prevent the water from freezing, expanding, and damaging the containers. So with temperatures plunging, I finally pulled up my tomatoes, uprooted the basil, dug out the eggplant and made a shocking discovery.

My husband had observed over the summer that some of the tomatoes, which were cracking along the sides, seemed to be getting too much water. I didn’t see how that was possible and routinely pooh-poohed the suggestion. But as I shoveled the last soil out of the largest of my self-watering containers and burrowed down to the plastic cover that sits atop the water tank below, I started noticing that the plants had sent root tips right through the slits in the plastic and into the reservoir below. When I pried the cover loose, I was astonished to see not just wispy little root tips, but a massive mat of tangled roots in the water. My plants, the sneaky little creatures, weren’t just supping. They were mainlining water—overdosing on it, in the case of the tomatoes.

Next I turned my attention to uprooting the sweet potato vines, basil, mint, marigolds, and sorrel in my other self-watering containers. They, too, had sent their roots down deep into the reservoir, making these plants a whole lot more challenging to pull up than plants in regular containers. No wonder they seemed so happy.

But the biggest chuckle of the day came when I found the actual sweet potatoes among the roots of my decorative vines. Large and ruby red, they looked like lips ready to give a Valentine’s Day kiss. Pucker up!
Sweet potatoes from decorative vines--photo copyright Anne Underwood Enslow

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