It is likely that you and your family enjoyed some yams during Thanksgiving dinner. Many have perused newspaper ads often including both yams and sweet potatoes as a favorite side dish during the holiday season.  Consumers are often left asking, what's the difference?  

For beginners, sweet potatoes are not true yams — they belong to the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae), while true yams belong to the Dioscoreaceae family, which grow only in the tropics.  The true yam is rarely available anywhere in the U.S. even though some say a few may be found in the extreme southern part of the United States.

 The term “yam” is used here as a trade name that refers to the moist flesh type of sweet potato. The Department of Agriculture designates sweet potatoes as “dry flesh” or as “moist flesh” according to the sensation experienced in the mouth during the eating of cooked sweet potatoes.  (The terms do not refer to the actual moisture content of the potato).

 Yam seems to sound better on restaurant menus and yams with ham goes better in supermarket advertising, especially around the holidays.  The chances are very good, however, that the yams you eat are really sweet potatoes.


Q. Can we plant some cranberries in our garden and have our own supply of berries this time next year?

A. You certainly could grow a few cranberry plants in your garden, but unfortunately the yields would more than likely disappoint you.  Like most agricultural crops, cranberries have very specific cultural requirements.  They require either a peat or sandy soil with good drainage, summer irrigation, protection from frost when in bloom, sufficient bee populations for good pollination and ongoing weed, insect and disease control.

 On a small scale, harvesting the fruit can be accomplished by hand picking but remember, it takes approximately 440 cranberries to make a pound and 440,000 berries to make a gallon of juice!

Donald Tapio is a WSU Extension regional specialist emeritus. He may be reached at

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