Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sweet Potato Slips

I know they are not on our diet, but I planted these sweet potatoes back in April and they are still currently taking up real estate in my garden. Sweet potatoes have a very long growing season and love the heat, so they are one of the few things that make it through the summer unscathed. (As I have mentioned, the others that I know of are purslane and basil.  If you have discovered any others that do well in 110+ degrees, please share.)

The first time I planted sweet potatoes I cut pieces with eyes and planted them, like you would a white potato.  Sweet potatoes don't really get the pronounced eyes like white potatoes do, so I pretty much guessed and ended up with very few plants.  I also guessed when it was time to harvest and all I found was an intricate system of orange roots.

The next year, I read up on growing my own starts and being patient.  The starts are simple.  There are two ends to a sweet potato, the end that was attached to the root and the end that grows eyes.  Fill a jar with water 3/4 of the way.  Insert three toothpick spokes around the middle of the potato and stick the root end in the water. After a while, the eyes will grow into leaves.  Using older, untreated sweet potatoes and keeping them in a warm place will speed up the process.

After the leaves have grown, you break the stem right at the base where it is coming out of the potato and place it in a small bowl of water to encourage roots to grow.  Once you have a few roots about one inch in length, the slips are ready to plant.  Dig small holes about 12 inches apart, place a slip in each hole and gently cover the roots with soil, then water lightly.

Sweet potatoes are supposed to take 120 to 160 days from this point, but like I said; mine are still in the ground.  The most reliable way to know when they are ready is to wait for them to flower.  They get really pretty purple flowers, at which point you will have small, tender sweet potato.  Leave them in longer to swell to larger sizes.

When you do harvest, you will still find an intricate system of orange roots.  If you don't get these out, they will come up again next year.  I haven't found it to be a problem to have sweet potatoes in the same place year after year.  They are not susceptible to the plethora of bugs and diseases white potatoes are, but they do attract peacocks :)

What has your experience been with growing sweet potatoes?

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