Made At Home: Vegetables (Mitchell Beazley, 2012) is the go-to guide to planting your own plot for fresh, year-round garden produce. Father and son, Dick and James Strawbridge provide simple instruction for planning, growing and harvesting your own seasonal produce, as well as recipes to use them up. In this excerpt from part three, “Autumn,” see how easy it is to grow sweet potatoes and what you can do to use and store these vegetables.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Made at Home: Vegetables.
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We’ve been enjoying sweet potatoes for years but we’ve only recently begun growing them in the garden. Sweet potato is a delicious crop that is easy to grow if you choose one of the hardier varieties. If you have a sunny, sheltered garden why not have a go—they have more vitamin C than the classic potato and are great fun to cook.
The easiest way to grow sweet potatoes is to buy ‘slips’ (available by mail order) and plant them 30cm (1 foot) apart and 5cm (2 inches) deep. They will provide ground cover all summer and a harvest of tubers. You can also grow them from tubers that you plant into a pot or tray filled with moist soil mixed with a third of its volume of sand and then allow to sprout in an airing cupboard or a warm propagator. Similar to chitting potatoes, this job is vital to the success of your crop.
Grow Sweet Potatoes
Once your sweet potatoes have produced shoots a few inches long, cut away the pieces of tuber with the sprouts on them with a sharp knife and plant the chunks with sprouts into small pots of cutting compost (a mixture of equal parts sharp sand and good compost). Keep them moist and place a clear plastic bag over each pot and secure it with an elastic band as a mini-propagator.
Harden off your sweet potatoes before planting them in warm soil. This can mean waiting until late spring and early summer before planting them outside, but you can bring your season forward by warming up the ground beforehand—cover it with black plastic in early to mid spring. Growing them through plastic will also make the individual plants easier to locate when the tubers are ready to harvest. For best results, grow sweet potatoes in a large pot in the greenhouse.
Protect sweet potato plants with fleece if there is any chance of a cold spell as they will not tolerate frost. They like well-drained soil, so the key thing that you can do to increase your chances of a good crop is to start with rich soil that has been well dug over.
If you are growing them under cover, spray the plants with water every week to keep them from getting dry, which makes them more susceptible to pests.
Pests & Diseases
Red spider mite and whitefly are the main problems for sweet potatoes grown in a greenhouse, but these pests can easily be treated with a commercial spray.
Wait until the foliage dies back or turns yellow before lifting the sweet potatoes. This can take up to 5 months, but it’ll be worth the wait.
Sweet potatoes are best consumed within a few days of harvesting. Stored in a cool, dark place, they will keep for up to 10 days.
Sweet potatoes are tasty and versatile—you can try anything you would do with a standard spud, but the results will be softer. Scrubbed, pricked all over and roasted, they are particularly good with a sharper filling to complement their sweetness. To make sweet potato chips, fry once, allow to cool, then coat in seasoned flour prior to the second frying.
Reprinted with permission from Made At Home: Vegetables by Dick and James Straw Bridge and published by Mitchell Beazley, 2012. Buy this book from our store: Made at Home: Vegetables.