Last year was the first time we’ve planted sweet potatoes. A friend was sweet and bought me some slips when she bought hers from the feed store. I later found out that they were $9…ouch.
We didn’t do a very good job of digging them up, the soil where they were planted has a lot of clay and it was compacted down. In February, Benjamin found a few more still in the ground. Then when Gabriel tilled up the area more sweet potatoes went flying. So I wasn’t super surprised when I found quite a few sweet potato sprouts coming up in the area they were planted last year.
After watching them grow and seeing more and more pop up, I decided to dig them all up and replant them in some looser soil and give some away. I was able to share with 4 people, including the person who originally purchased the slips for me last year.
This is about half of what I gave away.
How to grow sweet potatoes
- Sweet potatoes love heat. So for our zone they are some of the last things we plant. Planting season is April 15-May 15th
- Need at least 100 frost free days (northern climates can cover the ground with clear plastic to help warm up the soil)
- Sweet potatoes are not the same as yams and they’re different than regular potatoes
- Like loose, well drained soil
- Once established you only need to water if you notice the vine wilting
- Sweet potatoes are started by slips not seed potatoes (like white potatoes). You can buy slips (ouch) or start your own by planting a sweet potato and letting it sprout. After you see sprouts you can dig it up and gently removed the slips (sprouts) that have some roots on them. You can replant to potato and see if more slips develop. You can also do the same thing in water but it hasn’t worked very well for me.
- Plant slips 12-18″ apart and to a depth of about half its length
- If you live in a warm climate you might be able to grow them year round. As the vine grows you can bury it every 12″ or so and it will re-root and begin a new tuber.
Pest and problems with growing sweet potatoes
- Wireworms and grubs can be a problem for any root crop
- We had a problem with pill bugs eating the potatoes last year. We’re using diatomaceous earth to help this year.
- Nematodes may be a problem and you can add beneficial nematodes if you have poorly colored or deformed potatoes
- Sweet potatoes have very few pest and problems. In fact, Teri from Homestead Honey likes to grow sweet potatoes for a winter storage crop instead of winter squash for this very reason.
Harvesting and Storing Sweet Potatoes
- Unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes vines won’t die back when they’re ready to be harvested.
- Anytime between 100-120 days your potatoes will be ready. When you’re ready to harvest, just pull up the vines and use a digging fork to dig them up. Kids love this job!
- Harvest before first frost (although some of ours went through our mild winter in the ground just fine)
- Sweet potatoes need to be cured before storage. They need to held at 85-90°F and 80-90% humidity for 5-7 days. This will help them not dry out.
- To store they need to be kept at 55°F or higher. They’ll begin to rot if its lower.
Using Sweet Potatoes
Unlike regular potatoes, sweet potato leaves are edible (regular potato leaves are toxic so don’t eat those!) and very tasty. I like to saute them with carrots and onions just like I do broccoli and cauliflower leaves. We also like to mash them or bake them just like regular potatoes. We only add butter, salt and pepper – no sweetener to them. Another favorite way to enjoy sweet potatoes is in sweet potato pie. We’re pretty “plain Jane” eaters in our home but if like to experiment with sweet potatoes here’s a list of 50 different recipes!
You can find information about other fruits and veggies by searching clicking on the In The Garden tab up top or in The Gardening Notebook. Any other tips? Feel free to share in the comments.