This week the Nature Boy is thankful for the ancient Peruvians. Everything
that’s been going on in the backyard lately, they did it first, and better, too. More specifically, I’m referring to my attempts at:
1. Growing (massive amounts of) sweet potatoes
2. Storing, capturing, and distributing water for growing food
This moment of recognition-gratitude came as I gazed out at the terraces I’d constructed on the left side of our sloped backyard. I looked at the sweet potato shoots sprouting out of them, and thought of those tiny tubers growing under the ground. I licked my lips in anticipation of the fall harvest. (My obsession with the sweet potatoes is well-documented.)
The sweet potato was originally cultivated in South America, where remains of Peruvian sweet potatoes have been found going back almost 10,000 years. It has quite a history, but I’m just thankful that it made its way to the North American continent.
Looking at the terraces, I started thinking about the elaborate stone-faced terraces that the Incas constructed on the sides of mountains. They used them for the same reasons I’m using them: to minimize erosion, to capture water for growing food, and to create usable gardening space in a sloped environment.
This week’s trip to the library took me to South America, where I’ve been reading about the history of ancient Andean irrigation systems like the Puquios, a system of aqueducts near Nazca, Peru. It’s been fascinating to read about how people tapped subterranean aquifers to create wells and develop drip irrigation systems.
As for the sweet potato, we’ll probably never know exactly how it got from South America to North Carolina. DeSoto writes about finding them in Louisiana in the 1540s. Several of our regional Indian tribes grew them, including the Creek, Cherokee, Saura, and Tuscarora. Today North Carolina leads the nation in sweet potato production.