Growing Sweet Potatoes
We look at growing sweet potatoes the simple way from sprouting slips to propagating the potatoes.
Sweet potatoes not only taste great but are incredibly simple to grow. These tuberous roots are considered one of the healthiest foods in the world and they can be eaten many different ways from mash to fries. Because of their high content of vitamins and sweet flavours they make a great snack or additive to everyday meals. They come in a range of colours from purple to orange and they vary in flavour as each colour has its own unique taste. The young leaves are also eaten in soups across South East Asia and they are said to have many health benefits because of their extremely high content of antioxidants and fibre. They also contain calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, potassium and iron. So, plain old potatoes… I think not. The actual plant itself is a herbaceous perennial vine that spreads quickly. It’s a good idea to use some kind of barrier to contain its magical migration in one area, as it will rapidly take over your garden and maybe even trail cheekily into the neighbour’s borders.
Sprouting Sweet Potato Slips
Various methods can be used to sprout the slips, such as filling a jar with water and submerging the potato inside. I personally like to use a plant pot saucer or drip tray as I have them on hand. After a few days the roots will start to form, followed shortly by the slips. The slips are basically a new plant that can be extracted and regrown. Store bought sweet potatoes will also sprout slips quickly if they haven’t been sprayed with certain chemicals. Once the slip has reached a couple of inches long it will start to form its own roots and it can then be taken from the potato and planted directly into the soil. It’s important to remember that sweet potatoes are none tolerant to drought or frost and they prefer soil with good drainage. Waterlogging or flooding the plant will also result in restricted growth. A nice sized patch with adequate sunlight and drainage will see this plant thrive. They have few natural enemies so sprays are not usually required.
When to Harvest Sweet Potatoes
The huge starchy tuberous roots can often be seen poking out of the soil close to harvest time, at which point the new potatoes can be pulled up with the vine or dug out with a fork. I often chop the vine down into slips around six inches long and replant them into the soil. They will soon root and start the whole process again. Any excess vine or leaves can be added into various different dishes or used on the compost pile.