Sweet Potato – Gardening Tips from The Culinary View

Did You Know?

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are native to the American tropics and have been in cultivation for at least 5000 years.  The plants are in the morning glory family and will produce similar flowers when day length is right.  The tender shoots and leaves of the sweet potato plant are edible and commonly used in stir frying.  Some orange fleshed sweet potatoes are referred to as “yams” but, true yams are a completely different plant related to lilies.  

Types of Sweet Potato

The skin of different sweet potato varieties can be white, yellow, orange, brown or purple and the flesh can be white, yellow, pink, orange or purple.  The orange fleshed potatoes are the most common locally with Beauregard and Centennial being two of the preferred varieties for gardeners.

When to Plant

Although the plants are perennial in the tropics, they are treated as a warm season annual in temperate areas like ours.  Sweet potatoes are usually started from slips – vine pieces obtained from sprouted tubers – in the spring after soil temperatures are in the mid 60’s.  The trailing vines can grow to 10 feet or longer and will often root at nodes.  This is a long season plant typically grown until late summer to early fall.  Slips can be purchased, or the home gardener can sprout slips indoors by suspending a sweet potato halfway in a glass of water using toothpicks.

Harvest and Storage

Sweet potatoes should be dug up before a frost can damage the tubers.  Care must be taken to not damage the tender skin.  After harvest, the tubers are usually “cured” for up to 2 weeks in a warm, high humidity environment, this toughens the skin and helps to develop the sugars.  For long term storage after curing, the potatoes should be kept in a cool location (ideally near 60) but not refrigerated. Temperatures below 50 will damage the tubers.  Quality will deteriorate over time if stored above 60 and the tubers may begin to sprout.

By:  Michael Vidrine

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