Sweet potatoes are root crops packed with vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, carotenoids and fibre. Nutritious and delicious, you can do different dishes as simple as roasted, mashed, fried, and baked with a sweet potato. This healthy vegetable has a lot of variety and most dominantly grow in places with warmer climates. But don’t despair, as there are varieties that can grow in areas with colder weather.
Know What to Plant
One of the crucial factors to consider when growing sweet potatoes is the climate. When you live in the UK, choose a sweet potato variety that can tolerate the cold weather. Choose the best variety that can grow and thrive in a cold climate, such as Beauregard Improved, T65, Georgia Jet and O’Henry.
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This type of sweet potato is known for its early maturity and high-yielding vines. It has a short growing season which is beneficial to the farmers.
The T65 grows vigorously and is well-grown in cooler temperatures. You can expect to see good-sized white flesh tubers with plum skin.
The Georgia Jet sweet potato is known for its enormous harvest. It grows well anywhere and can thrive in northern or southern areas.
This variety has attractive green, heart-shaped leaves that add beauty to your garden as it grows. The O’Henry can survive the cold weather but requires frost protection and is best grown in a greenhouse.
Planting with Sweet Potato Slips
Most vegetables are planted using seeds, but sweet potatoes are grown using slips. These slips are shoots that grew from a mature sweet potato.
Sourcing the Sweet Potato Slips
You can purchase sweet potato slips from gardening or farming stores. If you have limited growing space, determine if the sweet potato slips you’re getting belong to a bush type. It may still grow little vines, but it’s not as invasive as the vining type.
Store-bought sweet potato slips should be immediately but carefully unpacked to avoid damaging the fragile, sweet potato slips. If delivered through post, place the slips in a glass container with two inches of lukewarm water in it and leave them soaked overnight to let them absorb water.
Alternatively, you can take slips from your homegrown sweet potatoes. The cleaned and healthy sweet potatoes should have been wintered in a frost-free area.
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Producing Slips from Sweet Potatoes
Create sprouts by washing the sweet potatoes with care, then cut them in half or a large chunk. Prepare a glass container or jar where you can submerge the sweet potato’s bottom half and keep the other half afloat by placing a toothpick in between to avoid the sweet potato from getting all submerged.
Keep the sweet potato slips in a warm and humid area for a few weeks to allow sprouts to grow and roots to emerge. Once the roots have been established, you can now separate them into plantable slips. You need to carefully twist the sprout out of the sweet potato. The sprout removed from the sweet potato should be placed in a shallow bowl with water and let the upper half of the stem with leaves hung out over the rim while the bottom half is immersed in water.
Plantable slips are about an inch long. You can keep the slips healthy by removing the bad roots and changing the water regularly.
Getting the Soil Ready
Sweet potato plants require various conditions for planting, including the soil. Sweet potatoes need loose, well-drained, but moist soil to allow the large growth of sweet potato tubers. The loose soil allows the roots to spread freely and without resistance. Having excellent soil conditions is very critical to growing sweet potatoes.
You can favourably grow sweet potatoes in slightly acidic soil. You can check the soil’s pH level, then mix it with Sulphate of Iron to add acidity if needed. You can also add mulch to the soil to maintain its moisture.
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Planting Sweet Potatoes Slips
In planting sweet potato slips, you have to prepare them to be frost-free. The sweet potato plant is susceptible to damage when exposed to very low temperatures.
Plan the Plant Schedule
Scheduling the planting is vital for successful sweet potato harvesting when you’re growing sweet potatoes. Plant sweet potatoes when there’s no risk of frost. The ideal growing season starts in the first two weeks of June. You must ensure that the soil is in perfect planting condition to grow sweet potatoes. Warm the soil for guaranteed perfect soil to plant on.
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Providing ample distance and room to grow is essential to effectively and efficiently grow sweet potatoes. Placing the plants in an area where they can be well-protected and grow properly should be considered. You can opt to use plastic polythene sheets to cover the soil to keep the plants snugged.
The recommended space for each slip is 12 to 18 inches apart. Sweet potato plants can grow vigorously and cover an area with their roots spreading through the soil and potato leaves vining. The bush types sweet potato can grow up to 3 feet long, and the vining types can spread up to 20 feet long.
Handling the Slips
Sweet potatoes are fragile to plant. It needs careful handling when being planted and while slips are growing. Avoid bruising the new sweet potatoes slips as much as possible. Plant the slips on the soil by gently pressing the soil to remove air pockets. Do this process until all slips are planted.
Caring for Sweet Potato Plants
Grow sweet potato outdoors and indoors. But ensure you meet the required care to enjoy a bountiful harvest. To achieve the best sweet potato harvest, keep the plants in optimal growing condition and provide the care they need.
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The crop of sweet potatoes likes the warmth, and growing them inside a greenhouse provides the extra layer of protection from the cold. The crop grows best under 21–26°C temperature. Covering the sweet potato plants under black plastic cloches can significantly help with the rise of temperature.
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Sweet potatoes need to be hardened for a week before planting them outside. Plant the sweet potatoes in a warm area. Make sure it gets full sun yet maintains the ground moist. The outdoor location of the plants may present additional hazards to your sweet potatoes and encourage the growth of weeds. Cover the raised beds with polythene to suppress the growth of weeds which also warms the soil.
Keep the Sweet Potatoes Watered
Upon the planting of the slips, you have to thoroughly soak the slips and the surrounding dirt. The new plant called slips has a demanding water requirement. For the first few weeks, your plant needs to be watered abundantly. In the first week, support the slips growing by watering them every day. By the second week, you can reduce watering them to every other day. As the weeks’ progress, you can gradually lessen the watering schedule to once a week.
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Keep the Soil Healthy
Sweet potatoes can survive drought, but it will cause the plant to produce less. The soil must be kept moist in addition to its loose feature, which allows the roots to spread and tubers to grow well. Avoid using nitrogen-rich fertiliser as it only helps the foliage to grow but will not prosper the growth of tubers.
Harvest Sweet Potatoes
One tends to become excited to harvest sweet potatoes. Still, because sweet potatoes don’t store well in UK conditions, it’s recommended to harvest the sweet potatoes later to also form larger tubers. It takes 3 to 4 months for the sweet potatoes to be ready for harvest. Although it’s better to wait a bit longer before harvesting sweet potatoes, you shouldn’t wait for the first frost to set in before taking the potatoes out to avoid a rotten harvest.
One indication you can visually check if the sweet potatoes are ready for harvest is their leaves. When the leaves turn yellow and are about to die, you can carefully pull them up from the ground. You can use a fork and start digging around the growing area to locate the tubers. Upon harvest, you should handle the tubers with care to reduce bruising. Any damaged tubers should be used immediately.
You can store the sweet potatoes after being cured in the sun. You may also store them in a warm place for 10 to 14 days. Arrange the sweet potatoes in a way that they don’t touch each other. After the curing stage, you may wrap the sweet potatoes in a newspaper individually and store them in an area with a temperature of 12ºC.
When you know how to grow sweet potatoes the right way from the very start, you can save time and resources to grow one of the most nutritious and delicious vegetables. This type of crop grows best in warm places, but some varieties can thrive in colder climates. Growing your crop in your garden can be demanding, but you can successfully grow and harvest sweet potatoes with the proper guidance and careful planning.
It is essential to check the ground, the season, and the slips before proceeding with the planting. You have to keep the crop watered for weeks and let the natural course of the root weave itself to the ground and produce each tuber. Sweet potato vines can be invasive, so it’s best to prepare the plant’s growing area. Handling each tuber at the harvest time is also crucial for a longer storage period.