GARDEN

How To Grow Sweet Potatoes And Long Term Storage

how-to-grow-sweet-potatoes

Guest post by ‘Ozarks Tom’

 
Sweet potatoes are probably the longest storing vegetable your garden will produce. When handled and stored properly they’ll keep 8 months or longer in our Midwestern climate.

Although generally thought of as a Zone 5 or below crop, they can be grown successfully in most any State with a little planning. From planting to maturity is about 90 days.

Although you can buy “slips” from seed companies, growing your own is so easy I don’t know why anyone would buy them. There are several varieties of Sweet Potato, but the most common is the Beauregard, which is what you’ll find in most stores.

Here’s how to sprout your own sweet potatoes, check the soil conditions, how to plant and care for your sweet potatoes, and then the harvest and long term storage:


 

Sweet Potato Sprouts

Using a metal rod, we use brazing rod, skewer the potato roughly through the middle of its long side. Fill a jar with water, we use ½ gallon jars, and suspend the potato in it. Over a period of a couple weeks you’ll see sprouts emerging both above and below the water line. When the sprouts have reached about 9-12 inches cut them out of the potato, leaving about ½” surrounding the base. A large potato will yield 12 to 15 sprouts, left suspended in the water it will continue to put on sprouts.

 

Sweet Potato Slips

Put each sprout into its own plastic cup filled with water (we use 16 oz cups). They will continue to grow, and in about 4-6 days will have grown roots. Each of these root filaments will become a potato. Allow them to grow just short of becoming root bound in the cup. They’re now ready for planting.

 

Soil Conditions For Sweet Potatoes

Preferably loamy, well draining soil, with medium acidity. Our soil is heavy with clay, so we have amended it with plenty of compost and sand with good results. Work the soil as loose as possible, to a depth of about 10 inches. Soil temperature should be 50 degrees or above before planting.

As opposed to regular potatoes, sweet potatoes like warm soil. In cooler climates it’s recommended to cover the planting area with 4’ wide clear plastic sheeting. Clear sheeting allows the sunlight to warm the soil much better than black, and will hold much of the heat from escaping. I’d suggest putting the sheeting down mid-May, with an eye toward planting in early June. Seal the edges of the sheeting with soil to keep soil warmth and moisture in, and also eliminate any weeds.

 

How To Plant Sweet Potatoes

If you’ve used sheeting (Northern Climates), cut an X, and burrow a hole that will allow the root and about ½ the stem to be buried. Fill the hole in, and press a slight depression in the plastic about 10” diameter to allow water to drain toward the plant. Plant about 2’ apart. The vines will grow out to 6’ diameter, so plan where you place them accordingly. The vines will grow intertwining each other, but will invade other vegetable rows if planted too close to them. Don’t trim the vines back, as it will inhibit potato growth. In our area the growing season is long enough we don’t use sheeting.

 

How To Care For Sweet Potatoes

It’s not absolutely necessary, but I’d recommend removing the sheeting when the weather has warmed. This will allow better evaporation, and allow you to water the plants with the rest of your garden without the possibility of too much trapped moisture. If you’ve used good compost in your soil, you shouldn’t have to side dress the plants with additional fertilizer.

 

Harvest Your Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes can be left in the ground until the first frost, allowing you to harvest and cure them in amounts that are easiest for you to handle.

Cut the vines away, and using a garden fork start digging about 18” from the stem. If you stab a potato don’t plan on storing it. Sweet potatoes look sturdy, but they’re not. Bruising will cause possible rot spots, so handle with care. Don’t throw them into a wagon, place them in.

Freshly dug potatoes don’t have much flavor, that will develop over a few weeks. Also, the potatoes will “cure” over the next 10 days, growing a second skin that will seal the potato for storage.

We lay our crop out in the sun on a light colored tarp to cure, after brushing the majority of the dirt off. We store them “dirty”. Morning dew won’t hurt them, but cover them in the instance of rain.

 

Storage Of Sweet Potatoes

Do not store sweet potatoes in plastic containers, use open top cardboard boxes. Put the potatoes in the boxes not touching each other, with newspaper between the levels. Some people wrap each potato in newspaper, but we’ve found it to be more work than necessary. We fill the boxes to just below the rim, then use boards to support the next box. Store them where they won’t freeze, we put them in our attached garage. A basement would also work nicely if not excessively damp.

 

Use

If you’re going to bake them, just wash and bake. If you want to peel them for hash browns, mashed, etc. you’ll find that second skin to be a real pain. Put them in boiling water for about 3 minutes, and they’ll peel like a regular potato.

 
-‘Ozarks Tom’

 

 
Note: Sweet potatoes contain more than 400 calories per pound, about 180 calories per cup (similar to white potatoes) and are a great ‘survival garden’ choice…

 
Related: The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, 2nd Edition

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I planted a few slips last year. I’m just a little bit different, I grew them for greens. I make green smoothies but only in the sense I throw greens into more normal smoothies. They tasted pretty neutral in those. In the book “Eat Your Greens” the author says sweet potato greens have high levels of lutein. Also if you manage for both tubers & greens, sweet potatoes have the potential extremely high nutrient production per acre.

Very good article ‘Ozarks Tom’, I have never grown Sweet Taters, I did try some “regular” potatoes once, not much luck :-(

A question, where I live now, well lets just say I bought a Rock Quarry and only Pinion, Junipers, and Cactus will grow here. Hence I do my Garden in raised beds and containers. Thinking that 55 gallon barrel cut in 1/2 would work well. Holes in the bottom of course and filled with rich potting soil.

Also, 90 days? that’s it? seems short.

Lastly, will just a S-tater from the local store work? or will there be to many chemicals on it to sprout?

Thanks Again, good job
NRP

Hey NRP, I had heard that most of the taters in the stores had been subjected to chemicals to prevent sprouting, unless you buy organic.

@ Peanut Gallery
That’s a good point PG, I could try some Organic ones….
Thanks
NRP

I think that Peanut is right. I have had regular potatoes sprout but I don’t think that I have ever had sweets sprout.

Regular ones, I usually get either red or gold, as they are a good size for me, will normally just get wrinkled and soft if they get very old. I bet it’s the organic ones that I have had sprout.

Love sweet potatoes- little bit of butter, maybe a bit of brown sugar. Yum!

@NRP

Years ago we started with store bought sweet potatoes. They sprouted just as described. To my knowledge there shouldn’t be any difference. I’d suggest buying a tater and suspending it in water for a test just for ease of mind.

We harvested late last August, and used a few of our storage potatoes for sprouts in mid-May.

Sorry I didn’t answer your other questions. 90 days to maturity means you’ll have decent enough size to eat, but the longer they’re left in the ground the bigger they’ll get until the plant dies or you get a frost. We’ve had some nearly the size of a football.

The 1/2 barrels should work if your climate allows the soil to maintain 50+ degrees when they’re planted, and warmer after that. Sweet potatoes are originally a tropical vegetable, so they love heat.

@ Ozarks Tom

You have me sold, stopping buy a “Health Food” store and grab a couple. This is EXACTLY what I love about this Blog AND Gardening, lots of info and a hell of a lot of fun trying stuff new….

Thanks Tom, appreciate it.
NRP

I grow a batch every year in a large deep old metal wheelbarrow so I think your idea would work.

Good article Ozarks Tom. I do have a question, with regular taters I know that the spuds should not be exposed to the sun as they start to turn green where the sun shines on the tuber. I had always heard that if any green is on the potato it is poisonous and you should cut that part out. Is it the same with sweet potatoes?

@Peanut Gallery

We’ve never seen any discoloration occur while curing them or storing them. We have had a few go bad from being scraped or bruised, but even those didn’t bother our chickens.

We are still eating sweet potatoes from last year. (Beauregard) I usually grow too many. So, this year I only planted six vines. My son-in-law grew these. We like them baked in place of a white potato.

Our neighbors grew sweet potatoes last year and we were blessed to receive quite a few. I followed “Canning Granny” recipes and canned all that we received some in just plain water others in brown sugar syrup. Still have some left but hoping to get more raw potatoes to can again this year.

Enjoyed your article Ozarks Tom! I’ve been growing sweet potatoes for years and still learned something! Thanks, Beach’n

Good Luck with trying to sprout from store bought sweet potatoes. Did not work for me, due to they are processed not to sprout, for better looking in the store, and lasting longer.

I sent away for slips, and was satisfied with what I got. Just planted last week – we’ll see what happens.

I have High Hopes!

@ DeepSouth
By any chance did you use “Organic” taters???
Think maybe they won’t have the chemicals on them..
NRP

Deep South,

Did you suspend them in water, or lay them as some recommend in moist soil? We’ve never tried the moist soil method, so I don’t know if there would be a difference. I’ve never heard of a chemical that would keep a potato from sprouting. You’d think a chemical like that would be on the general market.

Look up chlorpropham or BudNip.

Looked it up. Sounds like some really nasty stuff. The information I saw said it was water soluble, which may make a difference in sprouting suspended in water.

I’d be surprised they’d use it on sweet potatoes though, as they’re naturally slow to sprout without the proper conditions.

OKAY:
If you don’t think they put chemicals on Sweet Potatoes, here’s another surprise for you.
I personally know the owner of one of the largest Landscape/Nursery farms in Florida.
He recently warned me to stop eating or drinking Coconut products, because the State has been inoculating all the coconut bearing Palm Trees with a toxic chemical, supposedly to protect them from disease. Eventual effects UNKNOWN.

@ DeepSouth

I don’t believe anyone doubted the indoctrination of chemicals on Sweet-Potatoes. I was asking about “organic” for specifically that reasoning. Thinking the “regular” ones may have been sprayed, as 99% of the rest of our foods are, OR GMO’d, in some way.

Heck, I’m just thinking it would be cool to grow some Sweet-Taters…..

AND now you have to go and mess up my Coconut Milk containing Pina Colada …. Hehehehe UGHHHH back to Gin I guess LOLOL

NRP

As I remember, 200 varieties of GMO potatoes were approved for production last year. I haven’t heard any statistics for this year. Get your seed potatoes now, or you’re likely going to be eating GMO.

The coconut milk that I get is Thai brand and actually does come from Thailand. Not sure how reassuring that is though.

I grow sweet taters every year. I bought my first plants several years ago and get my starts each year from the taters I store in mud room. As soon as the spring sunshine hits them they start sprouting. I just snap off the sprouts, let them root in water. When roots are about two inches, I put them in potting soil and two weeks later they go in the ground.?

I have done sweet taters for a few years. Planted them first in the yard under a swing for ground cover and they keep coming back every year. Now I also do the 4x4ft pallet planting. Made a box out of pallets and put about 6″ of dirt in the bottom. Every time the vines get about 3-4ft long, I throw more dirt on top and almost bury them. They grow up through and I do it again. Got about 3′ of dirt in there now. I rip off the bottom boards and dig in with a small shovel and get the taters. Been 4 months and they are about 6″ long and tasty!!

A friend of mine gave me this idea for regular potatoes, I wonder if it would work with sweet potatoes.

The basic idea is, you cut the bottom off a 5 gal bucket, put it on the ground and fill with your planting soil, plant the potatoes and let them grow, and when they’re ready to harvest all you do is lift the bucket and the majority of the soil just falls off the potatoes. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but it sounds like a great way to get potatoes out of the dirt. Although, I guess it limits your potato growth to the size of a bucket, which is only about a foot in diameter.

I’d question whether that was a large enough container. We’ll get 6-8 sweet taters from a plant, some late in the season 3 pounds or better, nearly the size of a football. Regular potatoes rarely get as big a sweet taters.

My daughter and I raise about 10 hills each year. Two years ago we had potatoes that weighed in at 4-5 pounds each. Of course that depends on the year and Mother Nature

This was very informative! I have struggled with sweet potatoes but I’m going to try your tips and see if I can do better this year! Thank you!