Loaded with health-giving vitamin A (thousands more units per pound than white potatoes), homegrown sweet potatoes are so flavorful than those you buy at the store cannot compare with them.
So, if you can grow ordinary potatoes in your garden, why not grow sweet potatoes, too?
They are no more difficult and produce as well, if not better.
True, Sweet Potato Uses
True, sweet potatoes cannot be stored for as long as white potatoes, but they can be kept successfully at least until Thanksgiving if you don’t eat them first!
Serve them mashed, candied, or baked in the jacket. Make potato chips from them.
Use them in pies, cakes, milkshakes, topping for ice cream, and even in jams and jellies.
Pureed in a blender, they are highly nutritious baby food.
Sweet Potato Varieties To Grow
Puerto Rico is the most popular variety. It has orange skin and rich yellow flesh.
If you don’t have room for its roaming vines, try the Bunch Puerto Rico, which spreads only about 2′ feet. Its potatoes tend to be larger and more numerous than the vine type.
For sweet potatoes that resemble yams, try Red Velvet or similar varieties. Their outer skin is red, and their flesh is a nice orange-yellow.
Plants of these varieties may be ordered in spring from most seed catalogs, and many garden shops stock them, too.
They are not expensive and save you the trouble of starting plants yourself.
Different Sweet Potato Obtaining Methods
When you find a variety you are fond of, you can use them to obtain plants.
Follow these steps:
- Place one or more (depending upon the number of plants you need) individually in a glass of water, so the lower third of each potato is in water. Roots soon appear, and several vines will shoot out from the top.
- When it reaches 12” inches long, cut them off and place them in water or wet sand to root.
- After the roots reach an inch in length, the rooted vines may be set out in the garden, providing all danger of frost is past. It takes about 2 months to obtain suitable plants this way.
Another method is to do the following:
- Place several sweet potatoes in a cold frame (they should not touch).
- Cover them with 2” inches of soil.
- Keep the soil moist and warm until vines appear.
- Then make cuttings the same as for vines started in water glasses.
Still another method, and possibly the easiest and surest one, is to plant a sound potato where it is to grow in the garden.
Here are the steps to do:
- Stand on end or lay flat, and cover with 3 inches of soil.
- Plant a week or two before the last expected frost.
- When vines appear, cut off all but three or four.
- Use only disease-free potatoes, or you will lose your entire crop.
Any loose, organically enriched soil that is well-drained is fine for sweet potatoes, providing they have not been grown on it for at least 5 years.
Never plant on wetland, or in a spot where water drains from a bed they previously grew.
Sweet potatoes are very susceptible to disease, which can be carried over in the soil.
The best way to prevent disease is to plant the first crop in the lowest, well-drained spot in your garden, then each succeeding year, plant a little farther up on the higher ground.
When preparing the land, do the following:
- Plow or spade at least 8” inches deep, rake smooth.
- Broadcast a garden fertilizer low in nitrogen because too much nitrogen encourages vining to the detriment of potato formation.
- Sweet potatoes like a pH of 5.5 or 6.0, so if your soil is still more acid, lime it before planting, or if too limey, use manganese sulfate.
- After tilling the soil, make beds or ridges with a turnplow or wide hoe, 10” to 14” inches high and as wide as the base.
- Space the ridges about 3 ½’ feet apart.
- Flatten the tops and allow the soil to settle for three weeks before planting.
When setting out new plants or potatoes, it’s best to do these steps:
- Space them at least 12” to 15” inches apart in the center of the ridges.
- Set plants 4” to 6” inches deep and firm the soil well around the roots.
- Water once a day until plants start new growth.
We like to transplant in the evening, on a cloudy day, or just before or after a rain.
If some plants do not start new growth in four days, we replace them to fill out our row.
To further ensure a good stand, dip roots for a second in a starter solution of high-analysis soluble fertilizer before planting.
We find that very little cultivation is necessary other than to control weeds.
We even eliminate this chore by mulching the sides of the ridges and the aisles between with grass clippings or straw.
This prevents the formation of a hard crust which would interfere with proper air circulation around the roots.
If insects attack your plants, dust or spray with a solution containing:
If gold bugs are the only pest, use DDT alone.
In the home garden, a digging fork is used to lift the roots, which must be dug before frost.
Work the fork carefully in a wide circle around the central portion of the plants, carefully turning up the potatoes.
Small cuts or bruises will quickly develop into rot. Place the potatoes in a basket as they are turned up because their tender skins scald easily if the sun is hot.
Usually, more sweet potatoes are harvested than can be used at once, but the extras can be stored.
Store only good sound ones, curing them for about 10 days in a warm room where the humidity and temperature are high—85° degrees Fahrenheit.
I put them on damp newspapers on the attic floor, distributing them, so they do not touch each other.
After curing, place them in open baskets or boxes where the temperature can be kept at about 55° degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is relatively high.
Sort out and remove rotting ones once every two weeks.
Keep an eye on the humidity. Should it drop, the potatoes will wilt and lose flavor.
A root cellar is excellent and keeps them plump and delicious down to the last one.