The potatoes look really awesome too, pretty substantial. Some of them are a bit funny-looking, but that happens when you grow your own food. Sweet Potatoes are not potatoes, they actually belong to the Convolvulaceae or Morning Glory- Family. Considering growing sweet potatoes in your backyard garden this year? This quick guide will walk you through the process.
Sweet potatoes are best grown from cuttings, which are not, in fact, rooted and technically called ‘slips’. Slips look like long leafy stems with roots and they are grown from a mature sweet potato. If you don’t want to purchase your slips you can start them at home from a purchased organic sweet potatoes. Basic idea to start slips is to suspend or place the sweet potato in water until it begins to sprout and root. This will take about 6 weeks, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time for the the slips to grow.
Once they are about 6 inches long, preferably with roots, you pinch the slips off of the sweet potato and plant them. Fill the hole with water, insert the slips to about half their length, then firm the soil.
They do prefer a warm, sunny location, so make sure you plant them where they will get full sun. They also do not tolerate cold well, so plant them well after the threat of frost has passed and the soil has warmed.
The general rule is to water slips twice a week for the first 4 weeks or so. Then you should be able to only water weekly; unless you live in a hot and dry climate, where the soil dries out much faster. You do not want the soil to dry out so keep a watchful eye on it for the first few weeks to determine how often you’ll need to water. After about a month, the vines should be strong enough to take care of themselves in terms of weeds and water, but if you are in a drought, they will benefit from a weekly deep watering.
Once the plants begin to vine, controlling the weeds is easy because they get shaded out. It is important to add fertility without adding too much nitrogen, otherwise your sweet potatoes will vine forever without producing abundant tubers.
Sweet potatoes love the heat of summer and do not tolerate any frost. The warmer, the better the harvest will be. If you have a greenhouse, you can grow the sweet potatoes in there or you can build a mini greenhouse or hoops for the plants. This is very important in the spring while plants are still young. Sweet potatoes form a lush mat of vining growth, and their tubers form underground.
For growing sweet potatoes, you’ll want a loose, well drained soil. Hard, clay filled soil will make it hard for your tubers to grow big. The uncompacted soil allows the sweet potatoes to grow smoothly. You can use a good potting soil and add some more compost to it for nutrients, or mix your own soil the Square Foot Garden way: 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss.
Tubers take four to five months to mature and are best lifted once the leaves turn yellow and die back. There are many methods to getting your potatoes out of the ground. You can use a digging fork or your hands. But they biggest thing to remember is go slow and be careful, you don’t want to damage your tubers which will make storing them long-term impossible.
Don’t wash them. Just brush off the dirt and let them dry out in the sun for a few hours. Then you can bring them in for curing. Curing will not only help you keep your harvest longer, it sweetens them as well. To cure sweet potatoes you will store them in a temperature of 80-85 degrees F with a humidity of 80-90% for about one week. This process begins to trigger the development of sugar-creating enzymes and converts starches to sugars. After curing period, store them at temperatures around 55 – 60 degrees F, with no light, and at around 60% humidity. You can wrap them individually, or just layer them in newspapers. Properly handled sweet potatoes should keep for eight to nine months.