Planting Sweet Potatoes
What’s not to like about sweet potatoes? They’re delicious, inexpensive, and they’re good for you. Yes, something that tastes that good is also packed with vitamins B6, C, and D, and contains iron.
But have you ever thought of growing your own sweet potatoes?
If you haven’t, or are considering it, it’s definitely worth the effort. Let’s take a closer look:
Sweet potatoes don’t grow from seed like many other vegetables but are started by slips, which are small shoots that eventually grow into a mature sweet potato.
One way to start slips is by taking a clean sweet potato and cutting it in half or sections. Place each section in a glass of water with the potato submerged halfway. Next, put the slips in a warm place; in a couple of weeks your potatoes will be covered with sprouts on top and roots on the bottom.
To get a plantable slip, carefully twist a sprout off of the potato and submerge half of the stem in water. Roots will emerge within a few days, and when they’re about an inch long the slips are ready to plant.
Of course, you can always buy slips via mail order or through and Internet catalog. All you’ll need to do in that case is plant them in soil.
The Right Soil
Sweet potatoes grow best in well-drained soil that’s not too rich. The ideal pH is between 5.8 and 6.2. Their root development depends on the aeration of the soil (the more aerated, the better).
Note: Sweet potatoes are very sensitive to cold temperatures and grow best when the weather is warm or hot.
How They Grow
Sweet potatoes need plenty of room to grow because their vines cover a large area. Make sure there is enough room between rows so that the vines will have room to spread. Remove all weeds from two weeks after planting, and water your sweet potatoes weekly.
You can also apply an organic fertilizer to your plants a couple of weeks after planting to enrich the soil. The plants will also benefit from a light covering of mulch, whether it’s grass clippings or another form of biodegradable mulch.
Sweet potatoes are usually ready for harvesting in about four months, or when they’re large enough to use. After harvesting, brush soil from the potatoes and let them cure for several weeks in a cool storage area.
Diseases That Affect Sweet Potatoes
It’s important to monitor your sweet potatoes to make sure that they’re not compromised by wilt or boll weevils.
There are several types of wilt, which make the plant look droopy as if it hasn’t received enough water. Be careful, because some wilts are highly contagious to other nearby vines, and the bacteria can live in the soil and affect plants in coming seasons.
Sweet potato boll weevils can cause serious damage to your plants. You’ll clearly notice the damage when you’ve harvested your potatoes because it will leave them bitter and gnarled.
Beetles and aphids are other pests that will damage your sweet potato crop.
Of course, the best part about sweet potatoes is eating them and they’re a highly versatile food. You can try them roasted, baked, grilled, mashed, or steamed, and they’re great when added to soups, stews and salads.