The sweet potatoes are an easy gardening crop. Their sweet tasting tubers are popular in Southern cooking. Sweet potatoes need about 120 days from planting to harvest. Yams and sweet potatoes are often confused, but they are not the same. Sweet potatoes are a native of South and Central America while yams are native to Africa. The two look similar, but they are from different families and differ in color and taste.
Sweet potatoes can have tubers that are yellow, white or red. The red varieties are higher in Vitamin A. This crop is usually started using “slips”–young shoots that grow out from the tuber. You can get sweet potato slips from your local gardening shop or by mail order. Another possibility is to produce your own.
Slips can be produced by placing a sweet potato, pointed end down, in a jar of water. Organic sweet potatoes from the grocery do well for producing slips. Stick tooth picks into the potato and support it, pointed end down, over the rim of a glass jar. The bottom 2/3 of the sweet potato should be under water. Place on a window sill or other sunny spot. In about three weeks, you should have small shoots emerging from the top of the potato. These are the slips.
The potato with the slips can be planted in the ground with the end with the slips pointed downward. The slips will then become the roots. Another way to go is to cut of the slips from the potato when they are four to six inches long. Place slips 3″ deep and 18″ apart and cover completely with soil. Each slip will produce a new plant and later will produce sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes grow best in sandy loam. Add a two inch layer of gardening sand and a two inch layer of compost or dried manure to the plot and till to a depth of 12″. Plant your slips or starting potatoes after the last killing frost of spring. When the new plants are about six inches tall add a two inch layer of straw mulch to preserve moisture. Keep the soil around your sweet potato plants moist but not wet.
Sweet potatoes are very high in Vitamin A and protein. They also contain Vitamins C, E and K. Sweet potatoes are a good source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium.
To harvest your sweet potatoes, use a shovel or pitch fork to loosen the soil around the plant. Pull the plant from the loose soil to remove the tubers from the roots. Sweet potatoes can canned for storage. You can also store them in paper or burlap bags in a cool dry place like a root cellar or basement.
Sweet potatoes can be baked, grilled, boiled or sliced and fried. After cooking, add a little sugar to bring out the flavor. You can also cut the sweet potatoes into thin slices and deep fry them for a delightful snack. After frying, add salt to season to taste.
Growing sweet potatoes takes time and a little effort, but the reward makes it well worth it. The sweet potato is a great plant to use to teach children how plants grow. They will be excited and thrilled to watch the plant grow from a potato into a leafy green plant with leaves, stems and roots.