Sunday, February 19, 2012

It's Time to Start Sweet Potato Slips


One of the fun things about gardening is the infinite number of experiments that are available to you. A couple of years ago, I decided to grow sweet potatoes from an inexpensive potato I bought from the grocery after several SACG gardeners asked me for helping in growing them. (Of course, you can sometimes buy slips at a local nursery or order them online).






Over that first winter, I started reading blogs and other information on the internet and learned that sweet potatoes grow differently than regular potatoes. For one, they don't grow off seed potatoes. You can buy things called "slips" at some nurseries. Second, they are a tropical plant and are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures. Third, the potato is a root and not something growing off the roots, like regular potatoes. However, like regular potatoes, they grow better in ridges and hills.



According to the blog I read, you can do the following to grow sweet potatoes:


To grow a sweet potato from the grocery, put it in a mason jar filled 1/3 with water in your kitchen window or other reliable light source. Make sure that the root end is facing down because this does not work well with the root side facing up. Although it will take a while, the potato will form roots which will take over the jar.


After a few weeks, nubby sprouts and leaves will begin to sprout from the sweet potato. When the leaves get big enough to form companion leaves off a stem, snap the stem off at the base and put the base in some water. (I used a shot glass in my kitchen window).


When the stem forms its own roots after just a couple of days, plant it in potting soil and put in a sunnier (or better lit) location that is protected from cold drafts. Sweet potatoes grow quickly, so don't skimp too much on the size of the container.
When the plant gets at least six inches long, and the outdoor temperature is reliably above 50, plant in the ground. Here in Ohio, you should warm the group up by covering the location with black fabric or plastic for a couple of weeks in advance. Mounding is also highly recommended.


Rumor has it that sweet potatoes need six months to grow. However, I usually plant mine around Memorial Day weekend and harvest them in October and November. Some varieties are ready to harvest after only 100 days.


I recommend putting a marker of some sort where you plant so that you know where to aim when you water. The roots grow underneath and the vines spread, so it can be difficult to know where to focus your efforts. Beware: last year, my potatoe vines took over most of the garden and grew up in the tomato cages. I had hoped that they would set down roots throughout the garden, but they did not.



My single root potato was the source of many, many slips and I finally just pitched it into my compost bin (where it continued to grow like crazy). Each planted slip yielded at least 3 sweet potatoes if planted early enough and if it received enough sun.



This was an easy and fun gardening experiment. I've read it will work in most climates.



Sweet potatoes keep well in a root cellar and I still have five of them left in my basement from last Fall's harvest. I eat them in a variety of ways: baked, roasted, pureed with squash soup, etc.

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