How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Your Backyard
Sweet potato plants produce lush vines that make a pretty ground cover. This magical, all-encompassing food can be consumed by anyone, no matter what sort of dietary restrictions they have. Learn how to grow and care for these starchy root vegetables that are grown worldwide.
How to Plant Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potato is a native vegetable of the tropical areas of America. Ranging in color from white, yellow, and purple, the orange and red-skinned variety is most common. Often called the “Yam of America,” sweet potatoes are generally boiled, steamed, or roasted and eaten along with the shoots. These root vegetables need at least 4 months of warm weather to grow into their full size. While warm weather conditions are ideal, given the right soil conditions and planting technique, the sweet potato will grow in temperate weather too. While they can be planted in poor soil, to get fully formed tubers, we suggest that you prepare loamy soil for planting with plenty of compost and a pH level of 5.8 to 6.2. For first-timers, the plant grows from root sprouts called slips and not from seeds. If you have roots from the previous harvest and plan to use them, ensure that they were stored in a slightly moist and warm environment before planting. Maintaining a gap of 3½ feet between two slips and growing them on a raised ridge 10 inches of soil will help in proper growth.
A crop of 8 to 10 pounds will require 3 to 4 slips. Sweet potatoes are susceptible to frost. Hence, you need to cover the soil after planting with a plastic back sheet to keep the soil warm for a cooler climate. Plant sweet potato slips in full sun when the soil is warm with a temperature of 60o F. Water the patch with a high phosphorus liquid fertilizer. Go easy on Nitrogen since it would only give you lustrous green leaves. Water regularly and in good quantity for a week to ten days to make sure the slips root well. In about 3 to 6 months, your sweet potatoes would be ready for harvesting, depending on the soil and climate.
How to Grow Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes grow from the sprouts that come up at the end of the tuber in the wild. If you are a regular grower, you would most likely use your parent plants/ roots from the previous harvest to get the slips for the coming planting season. Preparing the slips is easy but needs to be done right. Preparation should start a month before planting seasons. Soak the root tuber in warm water, and then find a large box that would hold all the umber of potatoes you intend to plant. Keep the tubers in the box after filling the bottom with a soil mix layer, 1 to 2-inch-thick. The soil mix should have potting soil and sand. Cover the tubers with another layer of soil. In about 6 weeks, you will get sprouts growing from the tuber. Once the slips reach a length of 4 inches, you can break them off, and they would be ready for planting. One of the benefits of sprout sweet potatoes in planting is that they have well-developed roots. However, you can also grow slips by simply dipping the tuber in clean, chlorine-free water. The tuber will grow slips if it senses moisture. Keeping a tuber with an inch of the tip submerged in a glass filled with some water will lead to leaves growing from the top and roots from the submerged portion in a week and can be planted.
Three to four weeks after transplantation, side-dress the plants with 5-10-10 fertilizer. Keep in mind that soil quality determines the amount of fertilizer needed. Sandy soil will most likely need more fertilizer. Two weeks after the planting, start de-weeding the plant without disturbing the roots. Avoid using tools that would go too deep. Water your sweet potato plants regularly, especially during the summer months, to increase the output. Avoid unnecessary pruning of the plant and reduce the water as summer comes to an end. If you wonder how long do sweet potatoes take to grow in the garden, check the variety of plants used, the soil quality, and weather conditions. Normal planting to harvesting duration is 3 to 4 months.
Tips To Avoid Pests
Sweet Potatoes aren’t just a favorite of humans; there are also various pests after them, especially in the warmer southern areas. Like everything else, these plants also have pests of the tunneling kind, like moles, mice, etc., who will have a go at yours unless you are growing them using-
- Large plastic or cement pots where access is barred. Protect the top by covering the pot with a hardware cloth.
- Raised bed with wood sides, where the plastic is stapled to the hardware cloth all around the edge to cover the top of the bed. You will have to make small pencil size holes in the plastic and the cloth to plant the slips.
A variety of worms such as wireworm and Fungal infections such as Stem rot or wilt are the biggest enemies of your plant. However, you can use the following to keep your plants healthy:
- Appropriate natural pesticides and regular crop rotation, including relocating the crop every year.
- Plant only disease-resistant variety or disease-free slips
- Keeping the fleshy roots dry will reduce the incidence of dry rot.
How to Harvest Sweet Potatoes
When sweet potatoes are ready to harvest, their leaves and vines start turning yellow. Depending on the variety planted, you will notice this between 3 to 4 months of planting. The longer your plant stays in the soil, the higher yield you will get. However, the harvesting must be completed before frost hits the plants and starts turning them black. If, unfortunately, frost has arrived and plant tips have turned black, all is not lost. Do not wait too long and start harvesting immediately. Harvesting involves clearing the soil without hitting the tubers, as they bruise easily. Using your hands to clear the loose soil around the tubers would give you the best outcome. Do not wash the tubers; remove the excess dirt and sun-dry for three to 4 hours. To cure the produce, shift the sweet potatoes to a well-ventilated and warm place and keep them there for 2 to 3 weeks. Store your produce in a warm and humid place, maintaining a temperature of 45 to 55 degrees and humidity of 80%. This would keep them safe for many months.
How to Cure Sweet Potatoes
Curing leads to a sweet taste and allows the formation of a cover over the scratches and bruises. After sun drying the fresh produce, store them in a box after lining it with old newspapers. Do not cover the top of the box. Allow a generous amount of air circulation for a week or two. Store the container near a heat source or under the sun for 10 days. After the hot air treatment, move the box to a cooler area with a temperature of 60F and humidity of 75F for 2 weeks. Check the harvest regularly and dispose of those that are spoiled or showing signs of damage. Wrap each of your prized potatoes in a piece of newspaper and store them in your vegetable cellar in a way that they do not touch each other. After a month, your sweet potatoes would be ready with a distinct flavor and sweetness. Older produce will have a more pungent taste!
Being loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients that can bolster your mind and body, sweet potatoes are worthy of being a part of your diet. Vitamin A is excellent for your vision, bones, and skin and helps strengthen your immune system. When buying and cooking sweet potatoes, it is essential to check that the potato is firm with smooth, taut skin. Purchasing organic products or growing them at home are the best ways to minimize the risk of contamination with pesticides.