How to Grow and Sell Sweet Potato Slips

sweet potato slips, slips, cuttings

love to grow and sell sweet potato slips! This is one of my favorite spring time activities, even though it involves a fair amount of time and work. “Slip” is the most common term used for “cutting,” in sweet potato nomenclature. Sweet potatoes are grown from slips and the majority of those who grow sweet potatoes purchase slips for their gardens.

A person can do this on a relatively small scale.

I started with three sweet potato varieties, which I grew for our own use. Every year I had extra slips and sometimes people would ask if I’d sell some. Later, when we went through some hard economic times, it occurred to me that I could easily produce more and sell them as a means of helping with our family’s budget. It turned out that I both enjoyed this, and earned a couple hundred dollars each spring..

I love to grow and sell sweet potato slips

This has become one of my favorite activities, every spring and summer. Here’s why…

Slip production is a service to other gardeners.

There are a lot of people out there who would love to grow their own sweet potatoes, yet garden centers and box stores typically stock only one or two food type sweet potato plants (not even slips), which are over priced and less than optimal. Companies such as Sandhill Preservation Center are virtual jackpots, full of unique offerings, but an individual growing and offering slips in a given community will reach many who would never do mail order for slips. Many love speaking with the grower in order to discuss the “best match” for their tastes.

Slip production and sales is a means of genetic and cultural preservation

Over time I’ve accumulated about a dozen varieties, all unique and relatively rare. Through sales, we’ve been able to expand gardeners’ awareness of the diversity of sweet potato varieties available.  Growing and selling slips is a tremendous tool for preservation. This is especially true since sweet potato varieties generally must be grown every year in order to be preserved. Otherwise, unless kept in the form of tissue culture, in a seed bank, they are lost. I am thrilled when customers adopt a variety and start producing it themselves. There is never any lack of sales opportunities, and I am always thrilled when someone catches on and grows their own!

Becca's Purple Sweet Potato, large sweet potato
You just won’t find such a fine purple variety, as Becca’s Purple, in a box store!

Selling slips makes us some cash money every Spring.

Without digging up the actual figures, I’d say I usually make about $500 each Spring, selling slips. That might not sound like much, but it is a big help. It’s something extra that I can do, to earn some income in the snatches of time available to me. I already start slips for our own use. This is just doing a bit more and advertising about it. This could be a great project for almost anyone. The most space requirement is to grow the sweet potatoes used for making slips.

Really long sweet potato slips
This was a LARGE set up, on my sun porch, in 2014.
sweet potato slips, sweet potatoes
This was my smallest “production:” a couple roots, each of three varieties, all in a dishpan.
beating frost, beat the frost, cold frame
Larger plantings for slips can be acheived with a cold frame. This is a cold frame made from a discarded futon. Notice the heat source.

Finally, I have FUN selling slips!

It is a pleasure to correspond and speak with people who are excited about growing sweet potatoes in their gardens. I find great satisfaction when they report back to me with their results. Sometimes we do the actual hand off in person. Many times when making the transaction we have wonderful conversation about the joys and technicalities of growing sweet potatoes. Many times I carry orders with me, to work, which is in town, and make the sale in the parking lot. Folk there joke about George selling “green stuff” in the parking lot! It is almost too much to express the pleasure it give me, to help people succeed in their introduction to the joys of growing sweet potatoes! One time, a client sheepishly called, asking how to start slips from their own roots. I could have hugged them over the phone!

Let’s consider some logistics

When should I do this?

Sweet potato slips should not be planted out until one can regularly go out at night without a sweater. I wouldn’t start my slips earlier than 10 weeks before this. For our location, planting dates vary, but let’s just say May 1. That means I should plant my roots,  in whatever kind of bed I’ll use for sprouting sometime between February 21 and March 6.  It’s more important to keep the roots WARM than to start them really early. They grow like lightening once they start to sprout.

How do I start slips from my own roots?

Here’s a thread with photos of starting slips. Also, Homesteading Edu has a course, with videos, about the entire process of growing sweet potatoes, saving roots and starting slips. I would mention that though starting slips by placing a sweet potato in a glass of water works, it is probably not as good as starting in growing medium, and that, with it on its side. Once one gets into any quantity, the water method becomes impractical. It is crucial that roots used for slips receive HEAT. I know one grower who has placed his roots in a cabinet incubator at 100 F for two weeks BEFORE bedding them for slips! Remember, Sweet Potatoes Love Heat.

Consider local laws.

There are a few parts of the country that actually prohibit home production and sales of slips. Also, it’s one thing to share a few slips with a friend, many states seed selling them as a business and want to collect tax. Here in Oklahoma it’s neither expensive nor complicated to get a nursery permit which gives one freedom to grow lots of slips and sell them. I believe I spend about $25 a year on this and report my income with our agricultural income taxes. For Oklahoma, here’s where one would start on getting that license.

Sales and Marketing

What to charge

I generally charge $1.25 a slip at the beginning of the season and drop down to $1.00 a slip towards the end. I charge for shipping and handling. Generally I make no limitation on how few slips a person can order, of each type, but most growers do. It’s all a matter of how much trouble you’re willing to go through, filling an order. Be sure that you don’t short change yourself. I’ve done it, where it cost me more to fill and order than it was worth. If you need a good starting point, look at the prices and terms used by companies like Sandhill Preservation Center. I consider them very reasonable, knowing the work they put into this endeavor.

10 dollar bill, money

How to advertise

There are a good many ways to advertise:

  • Word of mouth may work if you have enough gardening friends.
  • It’s often possible to post an ad in a local garden center, feed store or nursery.
  • There are on-line venues. I have personally enjoyed Craigslist sales. Through Craigslist I’ve met some wonderful gardening folk and enjoyed many great conversations with them. I know there can be dangers involved in this kind of sale, but here are some guidelines: How to Buy and Sell Safely on Craigslist .
  • Social media may be a good way to advertise.

In person sales or mailing, which is best?

There isn’t a “best,” except for in certain circumstances. I sell to people who live too far away to come for slips. Others would far rather save the shipping and handling and just pick them up, in town, when they come to shop! I’ve sold to people thousands of miles away, but the majority live within an hour of me.

 

Would you like to help with preservation of sweet potato varieties, perhaps make some money and help other gardeners? Consider this endeavor. It’s not hard to grow and sell sweet potato slips.

The Sweet Potato Network is a place to learn about and locate varieties of sweet potatoes, meet others of like interest and help others with this endeavor.

It’s a new forum and not very active as yet, but hey! It’s free! Come, let’s talk about spreading the love of sweet potatoes!

 

 

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