Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yam Day - Harvest!

From Brad, historical interpreter:

Yam Day Harvest Day!!! 

This was our big week for our yam experiment here at the museum, as we finally got to harvest our crop to see what we've got. We had mixed success, but we've also got some new ideas to improve next year!

For all of you following our blog over the past few months, place your bets now on which yam plant produced the biggest harvest!

If you bet on Yam 1, then you'll have to get a raincheck. We decided not to harvest that mound in order to save one of our healthy plants to show to visitors and school children. Apologies!  When Yam 1 dies, we will certainly harvest and let you know the results!

Yam 2:

This was our biggest vine in the initial week or two of the blog until it fell to #2 and stayed there until it began wilting from cold. Here you can see what's left before harvest:
And now we finally get to dig it up. Here I am, using my Igbo hoe, or ogu, to dig up the yams, starting with the bottom, outside edge of the mound and slowly working my way inward.
Here's an Igbo equivalent to a pick-ax, which I found easier to break up dirt. You really have to be careful not to go too fast because you can easily break the yams. I tried to remember an old Igbo proverb, but couldn't, and so I kept telling myself this: "Old men never break their yams because they move slow. Young men always break their yams because they're impatient."
Here I am, desperately digging with all the patience I can manage, but I didn't find a single yam!

The Twins come next. They've always been healthy, and have fought the frost better than most of the other plants. Here I am taking pride in their longevity.
And then swiftly picking up my digger and breaking open the mound.
 Could it be?
YAMS!!! Well, the beginnings of them anyway. They're not nearly the size they'd be in Africa--generally about the size of a football, these are more like golf balls--but yams nonetheless!
As far as I know, this is a sight that no one else has witnessed in the continental US, full grown or not.
 "Not bad, eh?"

Next up, the Di Ji, or Yam King. This one was the longest vine for the majority of our experiment; let's see if it really is the Yam King!

 First yam found. Rotted. Not very kingly.
 DEFINITELY not kingly.
And then...some yam sprouts off of the original seed planted. We discovered that the new yams typically grow straight down from the seed. Before I knew this, it took me 20 minutes to harvest 1 mound (remember, patience!). Now I can do it in less than 5, which would be useful considering a normal yam farmer would have hundreds if not thousands of these to harvest.
Unfortunately we only found the 3 spuds in the so-called Yam King's mound, so this plant was no match for the tag-team duo of the twins.
Although we didn't get any full-sized yams, I think that just getting yam-spuds is a success in itself, given our comparatively short growing season, low rainfall, and bad soil on the farm (look at previous posts and notice how rocky the soil is! This actually goes back to when the 1850's American farm was located on this site and our landscaping crews graded the topography to match that of the original location for that farmstead. In effect, they removed most, if not all, the topsoil in our garden). Next year, we've got a few ideas floating around to grow real, full-sized yams. We would like to start them earlier next year and decide on a method to transplant them into the mounds without disturbing their roots, because, as you can see in the photo above, they have very long, windy roots. With those good ideas, some fertilizer/compost, and a little luck, we'll be able to grow real African yams in Virginia for the first time in history! 


  1. Excellent! I am very happy to read about your experiment with African yams. I've been interested in them since I found out that they are different from what we call yams in the United States. I look forward to your efforts next season.

  2. This blog is awesome. I am very happy to see your excellent work. Thank You!

    Landscape Designer Virginia

  3. Thanks, all! We're quite excited to continue our experiment next year! Stay tuned!

  4. i love your article about yam.. dont give up just try again to plant your yam.. maybe the land dont have enough water, too dry. try to give some fertilize to ure land before u plant ure yam..