Sweet potatoes are probably my all-time favorite garden crop. I grow a lot. We eat a lot. They’re really good for you and really delicious. More folk ought to grow sweet potatoes. It amazes me how few do. One challenge is that most people don’t think about growing sweet potatoes, until spring, when they stumble upon some starts at a box store. These would be better than nothing, but they are certainly less than optimal. For one thing, box store sweet potato plants are usually potted and root-bound. They will produce an inferior crop, just because their roots were all knotted from the get-go. Another disadvantage to box store sweet potatoes is that they are somewhat pricey. One might be tempted to save the money and simply buy sweet potatoes in the fall. Still, these will grow and produce a usable crop.
If all you want to do is grow “generic” sweet potatoes, then why not buy a root in the fall and start your own slips in the spring?
As with so many things in this life, there is a better, more economical way to get your sweet potato slips (“Slip” is just the technical term for a cutting, or piece of stem, used to start a sweet potato plant.) If all you want is to “grow some sweet potatoes,” and you don’t particularly care about variety, why not get a root in the fall and save it to start your own slips for the coming spring? There are a couple of good reasons this is a better option than purchasing plants:
- One single root will probably produce over a dozen slips. Just a dozen slips represent about 18′ of the row and an average of about 48 pounds of harvested roots, all this for the cost of a single sweet potato and some potting mix. Last I checked, twelve potted sweet potato plants, from a box store, would run you a little over $20.
- Sweet potato roots are cheaper in the fall and of generally higher quality. It would be advantageous to get the root(s) then and store it(them) in a warm place until time to start them for slips, which would probably be sometime in March.
- If you frequent farmers’ markets in late summer to Thanksgiving, you’re likely to find some good sweet potato roots, possibly even of named varieties. These will not have been sprayed with growth retardant, which is standard procedure for most commercial sweet potato brokers.
- Even if you have to purchase a regular commercial sweet potato, from your local grocery store, this will give the root time to get over the effects of the grow retardant and allow it to make abundant sprouts in spring. Just be sure you store it in a warm place. Warmth is the most important factor in getting a sweet potato to sprout. If you want it to sprout well, keep it warm all winter.
So, when new sweet potatoes start appearing in the market, think about your garden in the coming spring. Consider starting some of your own slips and growing your own sweet potatoes. Homesteading Edu has a course on sweet potatoes with step by step instructions for everything from starting slips to harvest and cooking.
Also, here’s an excellent page with growing information by Sandhill Preservation Center: Information on growing Sweet Potatoes
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