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Growing Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes, yams, whatever you like to call them, let’s get them planted and cared for! Click here for more gardening information from the experts at Ashcombe!

Sweet potatoes will produce your greatest gardening thrill ever! They will be fresh, green and beautiful when the rest of your garden is brown and dry, and your harvest of big jumbo-sized potatoes (2-3 lbs) will be your most exciting garden experience ever!

Expect your plants to appear wilted or possibly bleached to a higher color due to their enclosure during shipment, but do not be alarmed if either condition exists. Sweet potato plants are very tough. If planted properly, and favorable weather exists, your plants will grow well and yield for you an abundant supply of delicious potatoes. Heavy plant foliage is trimmed to prevent overheating during shipment. Many large, sweet potato farmers cut off all the leaves and a part of the plant roots.

Be sure to put the roots of one plant in a bottle full of water and place it in your kitchen window or on your office desk. Soon you will have a colorful clinging vine that will mystify your friends. If desired, you can plant 3 or 4 plants in a hanging basket.

Most people prefer a sandy loam soil that drains well…but sweet potatoes are grown in all types of soil in all 50 states. Loose, freely worked soil will give the potatoes a chance to become large and smooth. The use of fertilizer is the gardeners choice. Some say the taste is better without fertilizer, others say the yield is better when you use fertilizer.

“Set” plants as soon as possible after you receive them. The ideal time is late in the afternoon after the hot sun has gone to bed. Try to avoid “setting” plants when you have a wind, especially from the North. Hold your plants until the following day and the results will be much better.

If there is to be a delay in planting, just remove the plants from the carton and take the rubber band, waxed paper and/or moss away from the plant roots. Place the roots in a position where they can receive moisture, being careful to keep the plants away from the sun and wind. Do not wet the stems or leaves. Roots placed on wet sawdust or moss or on a wet burlap bag will keep the plants strong and healthy for several days. Plants will succeed even if they are yellow, slimy and have an odor that is almost unbearable. Potato plants are tough and strong and most of them will survive if they are “set” properly and have a good growing climate.

Garden rows should be about 3 feet apart and the row itself about 8 to 12 inches high – the higher the row, the more space for the potato to develop. Plants should be set 10 to 18 inches apart. Even spaced rows and plants will produce a more uniform sized potato. A “peg”, shovel, stick or transplanter can be used to set your plants. Place the roots well in the ground but do not cover the “bud.” Pour a little water in the plant hole around the roots and then “firm up” the soil. In case frost or unexpected cool moves in, protect your plants with a light cover.

Keep the soil worked to a fairly “loose” condition and “hoe” or pull out the undesired vegetation. Once the plants get started, the plant growth will smother out most grass and weeds. Maximum maturity is hard to determine as some people like a small potato which they call a “baby baker.” Others desire the potato to grow to its largest or “jumbo” size. Simply examine an average hill and dig the potatoes when they approach the size that you desire.

Many folks have been growing sweet potatoes for years. Now, new quick-maturing varieties along with new gardening techniques that have been tested for several years in the New England states have helped the harvest almost double. These yields nearly matched those from Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina, which are traditional sweet potato states.

Prepare a large ridge around 12 inches high and make a furrow about 2 inches deep in the middle of the ridge and cover with black plastic. This can be done 2 weeks before planting time and the dirt will be warmed and your plants will begin to grow immediately after they are put in the ridge. The large ridge of loosely worked dirt helps the potatoes grow large and smooth. A regular garden hoe and a little work can prepare a ridge that will be a good growing place for your sweet potatoes.

When you are ready to plant your potatoes (late afternoon if possible), use a knife to make a small slit in the plastic. Slits every 12 inches will be about the right distance for plants to produce average size potatoes. If larger potatoes are desired, the slits should be 15 to 18 inches apart. Beginning gardeners should use all 3 spacings to determine the best spacing for future plantings. Put the roots of each plant in a peg hole, made under each slit, and pour about a cup of water around the roots. Then use your hand to ‘firm up’ the dirt around the roots. Protection is needed when unseasonable cool is expected.

The use of fertilizer is your choice. Most gardens are fertile enough to produce lots of sweet potatoes with no fertilizer at all. It is suggested you fertilize only part of your row and then you can compare yield and taste.

Use care in “digging” your potatoes being careful not to cut or bruise them. A shovel or large pronged fork is ideal to use. With a loose row, just pull the dirt away with the hands and gently place your beautiful potatoes in your storage basket or crate and start selecting your favorite recipes.

Place your ventilated crates or baskets of freshly dug potatoes inside a building. Let the potatoes “dry out” or “air” 8 to 10 days. This helps to heal cuts and the bruises that may have occurred and toughens the skin for winter storage. The rich, black soil of some gardens may cause discoloration on the outside of some potatoes. Do not be alarmed, storage life and taste have not been affected. After the potatoes are dried out, place them in a permanent storage area when the temperature ranges from 50 to 60°F. At this time your potato crop is made…best to not let a sudden drop in the temperature “chill” the potatoes in your best storage area. While your potatoes are in storage, avoid unnecessary handling…just cook the potatoes as you come to them from the top of the storage container to the bottom…and make plans for more plants next year.

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