Sweet potato, Ipomo batatas, a member of the morning glory family, is easy to grow but requires a long frost free growing period and room for the vines to spread. If you have limited space consider the “bush” varieties, these have shorter vines. If you live in the northeast, look for varieties that require a shorter growing season.
This year I will be growing 2 early maturing (90 days) heirloom varieties: Korean purple (purple skin, white flesh) and purple (purple skin, purple flesh). Go to: http://gardentowok.com/harvest-monday-october-31-2011/ and scroll down to see the color of the purple. The slips for these 2 varieties came from Sandhill Preservation Center last year. This year I am starting my own slips using sweet potatoes saved from last year’s crop.
I may also plant 2 – 3 plants of a variety that I have no information. A friend gave me a bunch of sweet potato vines she purchased (at $3.99 a pound) from NYC Asian market. The leaves were delicious so I saved a few of the vines which are rooting (photo at right). Growing these for the delicious leaves and if I get any tuber they will be an added bonus.
Growing: Plant in garden after danger of frost and soil is warm. Sweet potato does best planted in loose well drained soil and full sun. Prefers a low pH, between 5.8 – 6.2. Space plants 12 inches apart in row about 36 inches apart. The spreading vines will root at the nodes where it touches the soil and develop tuber.
Harvesting: Harvest when leaves begin to turn yellow and before frost. Beginning in August, I start to observe the soil near the base of the original plants, if there is heaving of the soil, I carefully dig that area to get to the tuber, being careful not to disturb the mother plant or any nearby smaller tubers (these will continue to develop).
Storing: Freshly dug sweet potatoes need to be cured to develop the sweet flavor. To cure, store sweet potatoes in a warm (80 – 90F) and humid place for 7 – 10 days then move to a cool dry place for long storage, do not refrigerate.
Starting sweet potato slips: Sweet potato slips are easy to start but require a bit of planning and, you will need a sweet potato that is suitable for growing in your zone, a local farmers market is an ideal place to find one. You could also use sweet potato from the health food store. The sweet potatoes from the food markets may be treated with growth retardant and may or may not root.
Go to http://gardentowok.com/2012/01/23/growing-sweet-potato-slip-update/ to learn which end of the sweet potato to immerse in water.
After another 2 - 3 weeks slips will begin to appear. Photos above.
When the slip reaches about 4 – 6 inches, remove and root in water or place directly in potting mix to root.
Copyright © by Norma Chang
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