Sweet potatoes are among the commonly grown vegetable in many homes and gardens. Typically, these plants are very sensitive to cold weather that is why they are planted after the last spring frost. If your place offers at least a 100-day frost free season then planting and growing potatoes is surprisingly easy.
Sweet potatoes are large, starchy, sweet-tasting, tuberous root vegetable. The plant offer attractive foliage and purple flowers that make a pretty ground cover. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are nothing alike. Although they both grow underground, sweet potatoes are related to morning glories, several garden flowers that are commonly grown as ornamental plants, which explains their purple flowers. Potatoes on the other hand belong to the nightshade family and grow best when the soil is cool and moist. Potatoes are cousins to peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.
Surprisingly, different countries identify sweet potato by different names. In Spain, it is called as Kumar while Polynesian calls it Kumara. In Chinese, it is named kara-imo, Satsuma-imo in Japanese. In the US it is known with its most popular varieties such as Jewel, Garnet, and Beauregard. In Eastern Africa, they are popularly known as Cilera Abana while in its Southern region it is known as Ubhatata. Spain uses terms like batata, boniato and camote.
Benefits of Sweet Potatoes
Not only those sweet potatoes are delicious and expensive, their nutritional values far exceed many fruits and vegetables. Potatoes are a good source of vitamin C and E, the potent antioxidant that play an important role in disease prevention and longevity.
Most often, vitamin C are known to ward off cold and flu viruses but beyond that it aids in the bone and teeth formation, digestion, and blood cell transformation.
Potassium is found in sweet potatoes as well. It is an important electrolyte that regulates the heartbeat and maintains the normal function of the brain and central nervous system. They also play a vital role in lowering blood pressure by getting rid of the body’s excess sodium and regulating fluid balance.
Sweet potatoes are also a good source of magnesium, an essential mineral that keeps a healthy artery, blood, bone, heart, muscle, and nerve function.
Additionally, they are rich in beta-carotene that helps protect your skin from sun damage and prevents vision loss and macular degeneration.
Moreover, they are packed-full of carbohydrates which are known to prevent and relieve constipation. Dietary fiber is also linked to reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Typically, sweet potatoes thrive in slightly acidic soil, preferring a pH between 5.0 and 6.5. Unlike other plants that are sown from seeds, sweet potatoes however are grown from slips, small rooted pieces of tuber. You can buy slips from garden centers or in various local farmers market. You can also create your own slips by slicing a sweet potato in half lengthwise and place each section in a jar or glass of water with half of the potato below the water and half above. Use toothpicks to hang them in place. After a few weeks your potato will be covered with leafy sprouts on top and roots on the bottom.
When the roots are about an inch long the new slips are now ready to plant. If they are well-formed then you can go straight ahead and plant your slip directly into the garden as long as the danger of frost has passed. Till the area of the garden that you will be using to about 8 to 10 inches deep. Create raised beds with at least 6 inches tall and 12 inches wide then use a fertile, well-drained soil. Plant the slips 12 to 18 inches apart because when they grow, the vines will spread and fill in.
Watering is necessary for new plants like slips but as they mature, watering will get a little farther apart. After planting the slips make sure to give them a thorough soak until the surrounding soil is wet. On the first week, watering these slips is required every day. On the second week, you can water the slips every other day and as the week progresses you can then water them with only once a week.
Hoe the beds occasionally and make sure to remove the weeds. Reshape the beds with soil or mulch.
Although sweet potatoes can tolerate period of droughts, regular watering on a hot, dry periods prevents splitting.
Be always on the lookout for pests and take control of them. Pests like flea beetles, sweet potato scurf, white blister, fungal leaf rot, and stem rot are some common pests to attack your garden.
You can also choose a certified disease free seed sweet potatoes to ensure a good quality sweet potatoes. Rotating their location in the garden from year to year also helps.
At least three to four months after, your sweet potatoes are now ready for harvest. Typically, the leaves should have started to yellow.
Use a spade fork to dig up the sweet potatoes then shake off any excess dirt but do not wash the roots. Handle them carefully to avoid bruising.
Curing is one of the most common methods used to store potatoes for an extended period of time. Cure the sweet potatoes for 1 to 2 weeks. Keep the roots in a room or other location that reaches between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 24 to 27 degrees Celsius) with relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent. For best result, keep the sweet potatoes from touching each other as they cure.
After the curing, select the properly cured sweet potatoes and toss that appear bruised, rotting or moldy. This means that they are not cured and may even cause the other sweet potatoes to spoil faster.
Wrap each sweet potato in a paper as they tend to be fairly breathable which prevents the sweet potatoes from rotting too quickly.
Along with breathable wrapping paper, place the sweet potatoes in a breathable container then store it in a cool, dry location with a consistent temperature between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.