Sweet Potato Serendipity


While wandering around in Quality’s greenhouse a few years ago, We couldn’t resist the sight of some short season sweet potato…..their verdant foliage beckoned us over and we couldn’t resist buying a couple of each cultivar.  We thought that even if they never grew potatoes, the heart shaped leaves and lush vines were stunning and we had a disappointing garden patch that was in need of some fresh energy.  When we pulled up the plants in September, we were thrilled to find a bounty of tanned and purple skinned sweet potatoes. The plants with the deep purple leaves and deep orange flesh (most would call yams) bore the most and regardless of which one we ate were amazing. They were so good, we could only save one potato that first year. Now we put a few in paper bags and leave in a closet until mid-February and since then, each year, we have been rewarded with sprouting potatoes. 


Experience has shown us how more plants can be coaxed from the remains of the sweet potato and indeed, the crop slips are increasing.  After removing the original 4 slips and planting them pro-mix, we cut up the potato and put two in the pro-mix and the other two suspended in a jar of water.  Both methods work – we tend to see better results with the water.  At the time of publishing, we are up to 12 plants with more still coming. They don’t go into the ground until May long weekend, we haven’t had any better results starting earlier unless you are talking about an in ground greenhouse. 


Sweet potatoes excel in warm soil.  Last year when we planted outside at the end of May, we did not pre-warm the soil, however we had been experiencing an already warmer year.  To pre-warm,  cover of plastic for the first two weeks of May before planting them.  Plant them on hills with two cups of compost and using ground cover will help increase the soil temperature and eliminate weeds.  They tend to like a drier bed and lots of sun.  When the leaves start to die down in mid-September-ish, your sweet potatoes are ready for harvest.  They are best cured at room temperature for two weeks so that their skin hardens up; after that they are ready for storage in a cardboard box in your cool closet.   Never put sweet potatoes in the fridge – once you do, they will taste like the ones in the supermarket which is OK but nothing like home grown.   

 Some say that sweet potatoes are fussy…. if anyone says that to you ….. ask them if they grow tomatoes 😉 

I can not emphasize how important it is to use short season sweet potatoes. Most of the ones sold in supermarkets are long season cultivars and they are much harder to grow in our climate.