Sweet potatoes are one of the most delicious and nutritious potato varieties out there. This variation of everyone’s’ favorite root vegetable is soft, creamy, and has a hint of sweetness. In fact, most people see it as a dessert ingredient and incorporate sweet potatoes into pie recipes. Packed with nutrition, they are rich in vitamin-A, B-5, riboflavin, niacin, and carotenoids. Consuming sweet potatoes is also great for health because of their anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties. On top of that, they’re relatively low in calories.
If you are a beginner yourself, planting some sweet potatoes is an excellent way to start building your garden. Sweet potatoes are easy to plant and won’t require you some heavy maintenance to keep them healthy. Plus, they yield a bunch of harvests compared to other vegetables.
So, growing your own sweet potato vines is indeed a sweet idea! Another reason to grow them is that their taste actually gets better during storage. Knowing their growing procedure and when to harvest sweet potatoes is key to get the best possible yield.
Grow & Harvest Sweet Potatoes
It is exciting to start building your garden starting by planting some sweet potatoes, and now, you don’t have to go to some grocery stores to buy some vegetables. However, before you go ahead and plant some sweet potatoes, you may want to first start choosing which variety is best for the climate you live in.
There are some factors you need to first consider in choosing which variety is best according to your climate, the soil you have, and your preferences. Some variety of sweet potatoes are more suited to humid climates, hot climates, and cold climates. To check which variety is best suited in your climate, you can check your local chart on which climate you have or you can simply check online. If those methods did not give some answers, you can instead go to your local nursery and ask for some tips there.
It’s quite easy to grow sweet potatoes if you just keep a few things in mind. They prefer full sun, and warm, sandy soil. Frost is the one thing they won’t tolerate.
Sweet potatoes are grown from rootable cuttings called ‘slips’. You can easily grow your own slips from small or medium-sized potatoes you purchased from the market. Three to five slips can be made from one potato. You can also procure some slips in your local nursery.
To grow your sweet potato slips, we first start by picking which of the sweet potatoes you have bought is the healthiest. After you have picked the healthiest ones, put them in the sink, and wash them thoroughly. Afterward, cut them in half, and if they happen to be bigger you can cut them to thirds or fourths.
Prepare a jar that has a mouth wide enough to fit your potatoes, and after that fill it with water. Stick some toothpicks in the sides of your sweet potato so that they may hold your potato in the mouth of the jar and not fall all the way through. Place the potato into the mouth of the jar in a way that the part that has been sliced is placed in the bottom. Finally, simply place the jar in a spot that has plenty of sunlight like on a windowsill.
You may start to notice the slips begin sprouting after 2-4 weeks. Once the top of your sweet potato is filled with slips, you may start harvesting them by carefully twisting each one individually. These slips don’t have roots yet and they resemble a leaf with a short stem.
Put your slips in a bowl with shallow water in it after you have harvested them. The water level depends on how many slips you place in a bowl at once, but typically just fill the bow with enough water that the stems of the slips are submerged. Leave the slips for several days and occasionally adding some freshwater to keep it healthy. As soon as you saw some roots sprouting, they are ready to be planted.
Because sweet potatoes thrive in warmer soil, compared to regular potatoes- they need 3-4 months of warm temperatures for a good harvest. So you should plant them when they have ample time to mature without getting killed by late spring frost.
You will know when to harvest sweet potatoes, as soon as their foliage starts turning yellow. Or you can harvest them just before frost. Typically, even the fastest maturing variety takes at least 90 days to be harvestable. For others, you can expect to wait up to 170 days till they’re ready.
Remember to dig your sweet potatoes out before the soil starts getting too cool. This is because cold, moist soil can encourage skin diseases.
Curing Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes get their signature delicious taste because of a process known as curing. They need to be cured so their flesh gets sweeter and healthier. This allows a second thick skin to form over the first, protecting the cuts and bruises caused while digging.
The period usually takes two to three weeks. Curing sweet potatoes require a warm place (80°F/27°C) with high humidity (about 90%) in a preferably shady spot. For nicely cured potatoes, make sure potatoes aren’t in contact with each other.
After curing, discard any bruised potatoes. Then wrap each sweet potato in a newspaper and store them in a basket or box. The storage area could ideally be a root cellar or basement. Wherever you decide to store them, the temperature should be at least 55°F/13°C.
The curing process actually continues itself during the first months of storage at cool temperatures. So you can relish your stored sweet potatoes during the winter months.
Expected Sweet Potatoes per Plant
Sweet potatoes are tropical perennials that thrive in warm climates. When growing these tubers, most gardeners wish to know how much yield to expect.
The variety, weather conditions, and your skills all determine how many sweet potatoes per plant you’re likely to harvest. Climate is one of the most important factors- even quick-maturing sweet potatoes also need at least 100 days of the frost-free growing season.
Typically you would get five to ten sweet potatoes per plant. Commercial gardeners usually expect to yield 288 pounds per 1000 square feet (plants spaced about 18 inches apart.)
Drought is one weather condition that will affect sweet potato yield badly. If subjected to drought, your plants will grow fewer and smaller tubers.
How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Containers
It isn’t difficult to grow sweet potatoes in a container. However, if you use this method then the plant is grown as an annual rather than a perennial.
When selecting your potatoes, choose bush varieties with shorter vines. You have a number of varieties to choose from such as Puerto Rico and Vardaman. Grocery store sweet potatoes will be much harder to grow as you have little information about their variety, needs, etc.
For sweet potato container crops, produce your own slips. All you have to do is choose a clean, smooth root of about ½ inches and put it in the sand. Cover it with 2 inches of more sand and water it regularly while maintaining a temperature of 75-80 F.
In about six weeks, your slips will be ready. Six to ten leaves will sprout indicating this. Now you can plant your sweet potatoes in containers.
Rather than a metal or plastic container, clay is a better option. Or even a whiskey barrel is great. Make sure the container has at least 4 holes for drainage. Use well-draining, sandy soil mixed with some compost.
Sweet potatoes in containers are generally ready for harvest in 150 days. You can dig them up with a fork and then let them cure for at least ten days.
It’s not just sweet potatoes that are a delight to eat. Their vine leaves are also edible and quite delicious. Simply boil them in water to remove any bitterness or toughness. They can be chopped and sautéed and added to lots of recipes for a dash of flavor.
Sweet potatoes are a great addition to your diet. And definitely in your garden! You can even choose to grow more colorful varieties like the carrot-colored ‘Centennial’ or copper-colored ‘Jewel’. ‘Stokes’ is a bright purple sweet potato with an extra dose of health benefits. Sweet potatoes, if cooked with a slice of lemon, will retain their color better.
You can easily enjoy growing these delicious vegetables all year round and store them too. Just provide them the right growing conditions and remember when to harvest sweet potatoes; before any chances of frost.
Your home-grown sweet potatoes will surely be a treat for you and your family!
Now that we have shared with you this topic, do you have any more thoughts or tips you would like to share? Any questions perhaps? Feel free to comment below! We also offer other guides as well such as When to Harvest Tomatoes and How to Grow Rosemary.