In my opinion, sweet potatoes are one of the most neglected crops in North American, especially outside of the South. Growing up in NJ I remember we hardly ever ate them, yet, as an adult, I learned to love sweet potatoes. The better I know them, the more I love them. There is more than one reason to grow sweet potatoes. Here are some good ones:
Sweet potatoes are delicious!
Let’s start with the bottom line, they’re delicious! When I hear someone say they don’t like sweet potatoes, I usually find they have only tried canned sweet potatoes, as a “big glop” on the side of their plate. My favorite way to eat them is baked in the skin. We bake them until they are sweet and mushy, and the skin is all that’s holding them together. At this point, most varieties are really sweet and need no sweetening at all. But one can also fix them as fries or cut them into stews or stir-fries. Sweet potato pie is amazing.
Blog post: Sweet Potatoes as a Leafy Green
That’s another reason to grow sweet potatoes: in the heat of the summer, when greens are hard to come by, sweet potato vines are producing them like crazy!
Sweet potatoes are nutritious.
Their greens are high in vitamin A, calcium, and iron. The roots are high in fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin A. The level of vitamin A depends on the variety. Those which are orange or yellow-fleshed have more vitamin A. The sweet potato is considered a nutrient-dense food. We consider it a staple. It’s a very important part of our diet.
Sweet potatoes are versatile.
They thrive on heat and produce in our climate when almost everything else has shut down. In fact, the hotter it gets the faster they grow. Yet, by taking a few steps to help them out, one can grow sweet potatoes all the way up into Canada or the Pacific Northwest. Sweet potatoes would be great for gorilla gardening.
Instead of planting an ornamental sweet potato variety, which probably will produce very little, why not plant a real food-producing cultivar? They’re still beautiful, yet under that foliage, come fall, one can dig up some wonderful food!
Sweet potatoes are sustainable.
Another reason to grow sweet potatoes is that they are sustainable. By “sustainable” I mean that one can maintain one’s own stock for years and years. I’ve been growing and selling slips of Red Wine Velvet, an old variety that I purchased from an older gentleman in the early 1980s. He had brought his startup to Indiana thirty years earlier! I’ve encountered more than one senior citizen who has “saved seed” and maintained a variety for so long, that they no longer remember the original name!
Homesteading Edu has an entire course on sweet potatoes, which goes into detail on propagation, planting, harvest, storage, and eating these wonderful roots.
Another reason to grow sweet potatoes is that they are varied.
There are roughly four varieties of sweet potato available in the grocery store. For those who would grow their own, there are hundreds, if not thousands of varieties from which to choose. There’s amazing variation in growth habit. Some have heart-shaped leaves, while others have a split (ivy) leaf, and others are variations between the two. Some have really long vines while others grow under a bushy mound of the vine, which doesn’t extend very far. That’s just a growing habit. There are white, yellow, pink, purple, near black, and bi-color skinned sweet potatoes. Some varieties have white flesh, while others have dark orange, yellow, purple, or bi-colored flesh. If one grows their own, there is an incredible range of color, sweetness, texture, and flavor to be had.
Depending on variety, a sweet potato can be dry fleshed or extremely moist.
Some varieties take longer after harvest to reach full flavor, but in April of the coming year, they’re still in great shape, having been stored at room temperature all winter. Other varieties reach full flavor within three weeks of harvest and may not keep quite so well. Some are extremely sweet and a few are not very sweet at all. Indeed, there’s a sweet potato variety for every taste or purpose… if one is willing to grow it themselves.
Sweet potatoes are valuable
They are one of the few things the home gardener can grow and store for the entire winter. They’re actually a staple crop, something which is both delicious and filling. They are not cheap when purchased in the store. Yet I can easily grow enough for my family’s needs.
We have a family sweet potato tradition.
When I first met Jerreth, her family would often go for Thanksgiving to “Grandma & Grandpa’s house,” in Southern Illinois. Grandma and Grandpa always grew a magnificent garden. It was their tradition to send everyone home, from that Thanksgiving feast, with a big box of homegrown sweet potatoes. While in school, and scraping financially, Jerreth and I absolutely treasured those sweet potatoes. Later, we treasured them, simply because they were so good. Now we try to grow enough to share with our kids…