Sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Sweet potatoes are a southern grown vegetable that is a favorite of many people and often eaten with the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams, but can be grown as annuals. Sweet potatoes, a dicot, are the 'firm' variety and members of the morning glory family. They have varying colors of skin and flesh. Yams, on the other hand, are members of the lily and grass family which originated from Africa. They are usually referred to as the 'soft' variety.
Sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas, is a perennial herbaceous bush or vine that is grown in vegetable gardens. It requires moderately deep, friable, slightly acid, sandy loam to grow its best. Plant sweet potato slips 3-4 weeks after the last frost date about 12-18” apart in rows 48” apart for vining plants and 30” apart for bush types. Water with 4-12-4 starter solution to prevent transplant shock.
Care of Sweet Potatoes Plants
Cutting the vines while the are growing will cause the roots to sprout. Keep the soil consistently most for proper growth and to avoid root cracks. If soil is poor, side-dress plants once with a low-nitrogen plant food. Sweet potatoes are drought tolerant for short periods. Avoid planting them in the same place more than once every 3 to 4 years to prevent soilborne diseases. All propagation is done from rooted slips.
Harvesting Sweet Potatoes
- Harvest sweet potatoes when the vines are frosted.
- Cut away the damaged foliage tops first.
- Then dig the tubers with a garden fork.
The potatoes may be harvested by digging carefully into the soil, and loosening the soil with a garden fork to avoid injuring the roots. Cure sweet potatoes for 2-3 weeks in a warm, humid area. Store cured roots wrapped in newspaper in a dry location at 55-60 degrees. Do not store them in the ground or the refrigerator as they will be injured by chilling.
Sweet potatoes are commonly found when the soil is not acid enough. Be sure to purchase certified disease free-slips for planting. Use row covers to protect young plants from flea beetles and cutworms. Overwatering may also attract root weevils.
Sweet Pototo Cultivars
‘Centennial’ is a popular cultivar that is susceptible to rots. ‘Allgold’ has moist salmon-colored flesh and is resistant to stem rot. Choose bush types, such as ‘Vardaman’ and ‘Porto Rico’, for small gardens and containers.
Sweet potatoes are nutritious and are high in vitamins A and vitamin C. There are many delicious recipes using sweet potatoes as their main ingredient. They are most often eaten as baked sweet potatoes, especially at Thanksgiving time alongside turkey and dressing. Sweet potato fries have become increasingly popular and can now be found in the frozen section in grocery stores. Another favorite is sweet potato pie. It is made the same way as pumpkin pie except using cooked sweet potatoes in the place of cooked pumpkin. These have all been long time favorite for Southerners.