Brief Plant Profile: Sweet Potato

I’ve got sweet potatoes on the brain since I’m just fixing to plant them. I’ll continue planting them for another month or so as they are such heat lovers they’ll thrive all summer long, with supplemental water, and they have numerous benefits.

The biggest benefit, besides doing well in the heat, is that they are vigorous enough to out-compete the many grasses that try (and too often succeed) to take over the summer garden. Additional benefits are that the leaves are edible and delicious, few pests bother them too much, and all the critters love the surplus. Plus, they are so easy to grow you can start them right in your kitchen and have dozens of plants from just one potato.

There are several methods for growing the ‘slips’ which you then plant in the garden. It seems the most popular way is to suspend your potato in a jar of water then snap each new vine off when there’s about 4 or 5 leaf sets, then plant it.

I prefer another method because when those vines get taller they don’t do so well with the wind when you first put them in the ground and they dry out faster. I lay them first flat in a tray and cover them most of the way with loose soil. Once they get 2 or 3 leaf sets I snap those off and put them in water for a week or so to grow roots. The short vine with many roots transplants much better in our climate than the long vine with no roots.*

These are from last year’s harvest, under lights in the corner, but a sunny window would work as well, especially with a heat mat.

Not exactly attractive, but very tasty! Some of our favorite ways to enjoy them are as a crust for quiche, in a roasted veggie medley tossed with plenty of olive oil or pork fat, and mashed with turnips and butter.

I prefer to tone down their sweetness rather than accentuate it, but lots of folks prefer the opposite, like the popular Thanksgiving dish topped with marshmallows or baked in a pie. They also do very well as a thickener for soups and sauces. To further tone down the sweetness you can avoid the curing process and move them straight indoors to overwinter.

For more growing tips and cooking ideas, here’s a good site:

Morag Gamble, Our Permaculture Life

* Another tip for Southern gardeners is to grow your own slips rather than order them. I wanted to try some different varieties I saw in the catalogues and tried for several years to get a good crop and they failed every time. The vines went crazy, but no tubers grew at all. I tried to discover why this was, but never could find an answer. My only guess is that coming from a more northern climate disrupted their growth somehow? Not only that, but they are obscenely expensive considering how easy they are to grow! I was not at all pleased to waste so much time, space and money for those failures. But, lesson learned and now I waste no money on them at all!

Author: KenshoHomestead

Creatively working toward self-sufficiency on the land.

10 thoughts on “Brief Plant Profile: Sweet Potato”

  1. For the new sweet potato growers do go to the Morag Gamble link that Kensho has provided. I for one have eaten the greens for years but Morag has a couple of great ideas that even I had not tried.

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  2. I’ll be trying sweet potatoes for the first time this year. They don’t normally grow here, but I found a source for a cooler climate variety. I’m only getting a package 5 slips, which will be sent to use when it’s time for planting (though when that will be is a good question, considering we’re looking at yet another snow storm!). I’m going to try some in grow bags and some in a new garden bed. If they work, I’ll be sure to keep some to start my own slips next year!

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  3. Two 4 by 8 ft raised beds gave my husband & I enough sweet potatoes for the winter & more greens than we could eat all summer. I’ve tried the bags but didn’t like them as in Texas the heat & wind dried them out so fast they had to be watered several times a day. Don’t ever stand them anywhere you don’t want water damage as they leak all over. For me they were more trouble than they were worth. You have to assess your own situation. I also experimented by planting a couple in a huge flower pot on my deck & except for a very limited crop they survived quite well & provided a cute plant for the deck (with a flower planted in the center) & provided me with easy access to the green vines which I kept clipped to a short length. Don’t forget to save a few potatoes to start slips in the spring. They give you free food forever as long as you make the slips.

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  4. I just got the bags this year and have 2 of them planted with potatoes. So we will see how it goes! I may try a big pot or box with a trellis for sweet potatoes.

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  5. I saw one gardener using boxes grow them on a trellis, which looked really cool. They are unfortunately big space hogs. I don’t see why a canvas bag wouldn’t work, worth a try if you’ve already got the bags. I’ve not tried bags and I did hear a negative report on them getting too hot in our climate for regular potatoes, but that might actually be a good thing for sweet potatoes depending where you are. Have you tried the bags yet for other potatoes?

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  6. I want to grow sweet potatoes but since I do raised beds I don’t know if I have enough space to do them. Do you know if they would grow well in a container like those canvas potato bags or what a good container would be for them?

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