Growing Sweet Potatoes is fun and quite productive
for the amount of labor spent. They grow well even in Hot dry weather.
In most areas, bundles of slips, young starter
plants, are inexpensive. But
it is also fun to grow slips yourself. Bury some sweet potatoes
in a moist starting soil where they can stay warm, and place in a sunny
window in January or February. Keep the soil moist and shoots will
start coming up. When the shoots are 4-6 inches long, break them
off and bury most of the stem in potting soil. These will root
and continue to grow. When these plants turn into longer vines,
the tips can be broken off to start more.
When the soil warms up, get your garden ready. Sweet
potatoes are grown in long ridges, taller ridges make harvesting easier.
They donít need great soil. Avoid very rich soil, or your
will get lots of vines and no potatoes.
Ridges can be 3" apart with 12" spacing
of plants or 6" apart with 6" plant spacing. I rototill
the area as deep as I can, shovel dirt off paths into ridges, then till
the paths again. It helps to water the young plants in, but don't
worry if they wilt for a short time after transplanting.
Control weeds and conserve soil moisture during
the long growing season by mulching. While the plants are still
small, cover the whole area with 6" more of hay. Soon you will
be unable to see the mulch for the luxurious vines. Use the young
leaves like spinach; they are very nutritious and mild tasting.
Insect pests are a little problem, but deer can
devastate the crop. An electric fence or a deer repellent such as hinder
can help. If all else fails, tie a dog in the garden at night.
When the first frost threatens, dig the sweet potatoes
carefully with a spade or fork and hands. Some sweet potatoes will
grow in unexpected places where the vines sent down new roots. Cure
the potatoes in a warm, dry place for 5 days to prepare for winter storage,
or can them. Break off all little roots and fragile ends. The
sweet potato, still a live plant, will heal over all the small wounds. Store
indoors in a cool dry place to enjoy until spring.