Friday, June 1, 2012

Sweet Potatoes!- Pine Mountain, Kathleen Powers

It’s time to plant sweet potatoes!

a sweet potato with slips still growing on it
     Last week we got sweet potato slips from Crystal, a Grow Appalachia participant at St. Vincent Mission. Crystal was growing a bunch of starts for other gardeners this spring and gave us a great price on them. We were really happy to be able to support a Grow Appalachia participant by purchasing plants from Crystal, and the plants we received were beautiful. We were even happier after hearing multiple reports that the sweet potato slips in many local stores looked sad and sickly, a great juxtaposition to ours!

Crazy purple sweet potato variety
     A sweet potato is a warm season, vining, perennial plant, that is usually grown as a food producing annual. Sweet Potatoes are grown from starts that are taken off mature tubers and are usually referred to as “slips”. Sweet Potato slips should be planted several weeks after the last frost date once the ground has had a little time to warm up. Slips should be planted 12-18 inches apart in a hill about 8-10 inches tall, because sweet potatoes are a vining plant you will not be able to hill them up after planting, so it is important to give them enough room to grow underground when you plant them. You should also plant sweet potato slips in a dry area of the garden with plenty of room (3-4 feet between rows) so that the vines will have some room to grow. There are many different sweet potato varieties available that have red, orange, or even purple skin, different colors of flesh, and a range of flavor from very mild to super sweet. The 2 types that we received are Beauregard and an old fashioned red variety.

Some common Sweet Potato Varieties
Beauregard: 100 days to harvest, light purple skin, dark orange flesh, extremely high yield

Bush Porto Rico: 110 days to harvest, copper skin, orange flesh, compact vines and heavy yield
Different sweet potato varieties

Centennial: 100 days to harvest, orange skin and flesh, good keeper, resistant to internal cork virus and wilt

Georgia Jet: 100 days to harvest, red skin and orange flesh, somewhat cold tolerant

Jewell: 100 days to harvest, orange flesh, good yield, and excellent keeper

Sumor: 110-120 days to harvest, ivory to very light yellow flesh, may be substituted for Irish potato

Vardaman: 110 days to harvest, golden skin, orange flesh, young foliage is purple, compact bush variety

     On the subject of planting sweet potato slips, does anyone know anything about trellising sweet potato vines? We have, against our better judgment, planted our slips in a narrow bed where the vines will most likely grow out over the grass. I have read very differing advice concerning trellising or staking sweet potato vines and we are not quite sure whether we should try it and risk losing what could be a beautiful, delicious crop. One side of the argument is in agreement that you should not trellis sweet potato vines because as the vines spread they will root into the ground at many different points and each of these roots will then produce tubers. So, if you trellis your vines and do not allow them to root, you will end up without any potatoes. The other side of the argument reasons that allowing your vines to root will rob the main crop of potatoes of nutrients and you will therefore have many small potatoes rather than fewer large potatoes, so following this advice trellising is a fine way to save space and still produce large potatoes. Have any readers experimented with trellising sweet potatoes or have any advice to offer? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

And an added bonus to planting sweet potatoes: They are really healthy!
Delicious sweet potato fries
Sweet potatoes are high in Vitamin C, calcium, folate, potassium, and beta-carotene. They also have a low glycemic index, which means that they will not cause great spikes in blood sugar levels. Sweet potatoes have a glycemic load of 17 compared to a white potato which has a glycemic load of 29. And, sweet potatoes are really delicious!

Thank you Crystal and St. Vincent Mission for the Beautiful slips!!

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