You’ll be forgiven for having thought that sweet potatoes are potatoes. Despite their closely related names, there’s a world difference between the two. Having originated from Central and South America, this fantastically healthy veggie is now cultivated worldwide. Sweet potatoes provide vitamins A and C, Potassium and unmatched fiber while being low in fat. They are a great alternative to potatoes. So lets get started, Here’s a complete guide for growing sweet potatoes.
Evidently, there’s so much love for sweet potatoes. They can be mashed, baked, roasted or steamed, thus making them a great choice for grow your own. There are hundreds of sweet potatoes varieties. These varieties range in colors from orange to creamy yellow and even purple.
Being a tropical plant, sweet potatoes thrive in warm climates. However, that shouldn’t put you off especially if yours is cooler climate. With time, there has been development of new sweet potato cultivars that do well in cooler soils.
Unlike most vegetables, sweet potatoes aren’t started by seed but from slips that are sliced off the sweet potatoes. Here is everything you need to know on how to grow sweet potatoes and care for them, but first things first.
Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
- Helps prevent Vitamin A and C deficiency.
- Helps manage diabetes and stress levels.
- They contain anti-inflammatory properties.
- They can help manage cancer and guard against ulcers.
- Helps minimize the risks of cardiovascular diseases.
- Helps improve skin and hair for people suffering from hair loss.
- Their high fiber content helps improve food digestion.
- They’re said to boost fertility.
- They help in weight management.
- They enhance memory.
As if that’s not enough, sweet potatoes are very undemanding to grow, heat-resistant and less susceptible to pests or diseases. There’re very few plants that match their generous harvest.
Which Sweet Potato to Grow?
Evidently, there are myriad varieties or cultivar of sweet potatoes to choose from. However, despite the endless opportunities, we recommend these varieties for gardeners in different situations.
This is a renowned cultivar of sweet potato. It’s popular for its high harvest and unmatched resistance to diseases. They favor vast garden. Their vine can be 3 to 6 feet long.
- Georgia Jet
Under cooler climates, this variety of sweet potatoes normally takes 90 days to mature. Their taste is flavorful and moist. They have an orange flesh and red skin.
- Heart of Gold
Though prized for its sweet flavor, their slips are hard to come by. So, if lucky to get some, snag them immediately.
- Bunch Porto Rico
This is best for gardeners with limited space or those who prefer container gardening. They take 90-110 days to mature and are ideal for baking.
Popularly considered the ‘queen of sweet potatoes’ thanks to their unmatched taste. Their tubers are shorter than other varieties. They boast of plentiful yield and high tolerance to poor soil. Even though they can take more than four months to mature, it’s worth the wait.
Whatever variety you choose to grow, in the long-run, purpose to try different varieties and let your local grocery store, family and friends have a taste of a new flavor.
How Long It Takes To Grow Sweet Potatoes
Ideally, their slips should be planted approximately a month after spring. The nighttime temperatures should be at least 130 C.
In warm climates, sweet potatoes take 3-4 months to mature and produce a great harvest
Preparations before Growing Sweet Potatoes
- Choose a location with enough space for vines to spread, we recommend a distance of three feet between rows of the vines.
- Till the garden to a depth of 8-10 inches and create raised mounds of 6-8 inches tall and 12 inches wide.
- Carry out a soil test. If it’s poor, change it appropriately using natural fertilizers such as manure. Sweet potatoes are very sensitive to aluminum toxicity.
- If you live in cool climates, you may need to cover the growing area with fabric mulch about one month before planting. This helps warm the soil.
- Choose a sunny spot with loamy and well-drained soil. Even though sweet potatoes are not too picky, they require well aerated soil for easy penetration of roots. In case you have rocky, clay or sandy soil, consider using raised beds.
How to Grow Sweet Potatoes
As aforementioned, sweet potatoes are started from slips. You can source the slips through a mail order, buy them from a nursery or start them yourself from a sweet potato. Needless to say, we advocate for the latter.
1. Development of Slips
To start you slips, proceed as follows.
- Get a number of healthy and clean sweet potatoes.
- Cut them in large sections-preferably in half.
- Place them in a jar-half of the potato inside and the other half above the water.
- Hold them in place with a toothpick.
- Put the jar on a window hedge or on a radiator. This provides the needed warmth. After a few weeks, the potatoes will have leafy sprouts growing from the top part and roots on the bottom. Each produces approximately 50 slip sprouts.
2. Root the Slips
After the sweet potato sprouts, separate them and prepare them for planting. To do this, proceed as follows.
- Take each sprout and carefully twist if from the sweet potato.
- Lay each sprout and lay them in a shallow bowl of fresh water-bottom half inside the water and the leaves hanging over the rim of the bowl.
- Once roots start developing from the bottom of your new plant and are an inch long, you can transplant the plant.
3. Planting the Slips
Assuming you had prepared your planting space as recommended above, it’s now time to show the world the green finger in you. Wondering how deep to plant sweet potatoes, relax and read on.
- Using a hand towel, dig a hole of 4″-5″ depth and 3″ width into the soil.
- With the roots pointing downwards, place one clip into each hole.
- For each slip, ensure the bottom-half is under the soil and top-half is above the ground.
- Fill the hole with soil. Be careful not to harm the new plant-Sweet potatoes dislike being bumped around.
- After each fill-up, gently press the soil around the new plant. This ensures there are no air pockets therein.
- Repeat this procedure until all your slips are planted.
How to Care for Sweet Potatoes
Well done! After the above steps, you’re now in the right direction towards a bountiful harvest of sweet potatoes. However, that doesn’t come on a silver platter. To make this dream come true, you need to religiously carry out these care practices.
This should be no surprise, right? Shortly after planting the slips, give them a thorough soaking until all the adjacent soil is wet. Careful though, don’t erode them.
Water the new slips daily for the first two weeks and reduce the watering frequency with time. Despite the fact that sweet potatoes can withstand drought, they’ll produce less. As such, adjust the watering schedule appropriately with regards to prevailing weather conditions.
This should be done after 3-4 weeks. Use 3 pounds of fertilizer per 100 feet of row. If your soil is sandy, increase the amount to approximately 5 pounds.
- Weeding and Mulching
This should be done two weeks after planting to inhibit growth of weeds. Reshape the beds with mulch or soil. Be keen not to dig deep with a hole lest you disturb the roots.
- Don’t prune the vines. They should be left to grow vigorously. Interfering with them can reduce your harvest.
- Rotate them to inhibit pest infestation.
Common Sweet Potatoes’ Pests or Diseases to Look Out For
- Sweet potato scurf
- Flea beetles
- Stem rot
- White blister
- Fungal leaf diseases
How to Harvest and Store your Sweet Potatoes
After the elapse of 3-4 months from planting, most varieties of sweet potatoes will have matured. Usually, their leaves and end of the vines turns yellow as an indication that they’re ready for harvest.
- Using a spade fork, dig and remove the sweet potatoes while avoiding any injury to the tubers.
- Pull the crown of the plant and dig up the tubers using your hands. Don’t bruise them
- Shake the excess soil from the tubers-don’t wash the roots.
- Cure the sweet potatoes for that delicious sweet taste when you cook them.
- After curing, discard any bruised sweet potatoes.
- Wrap them in a newspaper and store them carefully in a basket or wooden box. The garden storage shed environment should have temperatures of at least 130 With proper storage conditions, the tubers can last up to six months.
Now, what’s your new perception about growing and caring for sweet potatoes? It’s all about minimal effort, large reward, isn’t it? As you’ll notice, sweet potatoes are a forgiving vegetable to grow. Even if you only manage a small harvest during the first season, aluta continua, save a few tubers for next season.
Come what may, purpose not to buy sweet potatoes again whereas you can easily hone your growing skill. Hopefully, this guide has equipped with enough know-how on how to grow sweet potatoes and care for them. Thank us later.