Nutritious, delicious and darn near-miraculous, if we could grow only one food, it might just be this one! Growing sweet potato has many benefits.
Recipes range from mashed to roasted, sweet potato fries bread and delicious pies…. to edible green leaves to enjoy fresh, steamed or sautéed. Sweet potatoes are a recognized superfoods is the sweet potato with medicinal benefits, nutritionally and pharmacologically.
And we’re betting that many of you—like us—haven’t even been consuming even half of the food available from this plant! More on that soon but first, a little context and orientation to this amazing food!
Sweet potatoes pack a powerful nutritional punch.
Not from the Shady Side of Life
The common “Irish” or white potato is a member of the Nightshade Family, along with the tomato and eggplant.
The sweet potato belongs to the Morning Glory family and is not a nightshade plant. You can spot the family resemblance in the creeping twining vines with heart-shaped leafy greens and pink or purple blossoms.
Sweet potatoes are like potatoes in how the thick starchy roots develop into edible of various shapes and sizes. But unlike the potatoes, sweet potatoes are less starchy and more nutritious as evidenced by the vivid orange color. https://www.sweetpotatoes.com/About/BriefHistoryoftheSweetPotato.aspx
Let’s get more into the meat and potatoes of growing sweet potatoes…
Sweet Potatoes Tubers and Greens for Nutrition and Health
The Department of Human Nutrition at Ohio State University confirms that sweet potatoes are at the top of the list when it comes to supplying Vitamin A. Vitamin A helps to keep your immune function, vision, and reproduction system functioning at their optimal levels.https://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5551.html Sweet potatoes also contain fiber. Diets high in fiber have been associated with a decreased risk of developing obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, diverticulitis, and constipation.https://naturalsociety.com/4-nutrition-packed-super-foods-eat/
Another bonus is that you can harvest sweet potato leaves along the way–just not so many as to stunt growth. According to a recent study, sweet potato leaves have 3 times more vitamin B6, 5 times more vitamin C, and almost 10 times more riboflavin than actual sweet potatoes. Nutritionally, this makes the sweet potato greens similar to spinach, but sweet potato leaves have less oxalic acid, which gives some greens like spinach and chard a sharper taste.https://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/sweet-potato-greens
How To Grow Sweet Potato Slips: Getting Started
So after several weeks you'll have shoots and roots. Those shoots are called slips and once they reach a certain height, you can snip them and place them in a jar (or other vessel) of water. Next is a follow-up video on what to do next.
As your slips send out roots and grow further, this is a perfect time to begin preparing a place for them outside. Another vital distinction between the sweet versus Irish potato is that sweet potatoes like it hot. They are derived from the tropics and, unlike regular potatoes which favor cool earth, these spuds like to bust loose in the heat. That means they require a very warm and wide growing season window.
Sweet potatoes like hot weather.
Sweet potatoes generally need at least 4 months of frost-free growing. Even early varieties need at least 90 days from when the slip (young plant) is transplanted until the full size tubers can be harvested. Some sellers recommend that those with shorter seasons try starting early and using black plastic to help warm the soil.https://bonnieplants.com/growing/growing-sweet-potatoes/
Also, some growers choose the "tater tote" method of planting in potato grow bags which are placed in warm locations and not necessarily taking up space in the garden. We've written more about that in this article.https://gardensall.com/when-and-how-to-plant-sprouting-potatoes/
Obviously, it pays to match the days to maturity with your own growing season. 20 to 30 days can be a huge difference. One popular type, the Beauregard Sweet Potato, clocks in at @ 90 days, Georgia Jets at 100 days and extended varieties such as Ginseng Sweet as high as 120 days.
And while you can buy sweet potato slips, we like to visit our local Whole Foods Market and buy several favorite varieties. That we we get to taste test them and decide which ones we want to plant for sure.
If you decide to go to ground with your plants, here are a few pointers from Mother Earth News.
Growing Sweet Potatoes in Grow Bags
It’s the season for harvesting sweet potatoes. Some of our fellow gardeners have already posted us on their great results. It’s still a bit early for us because the plants vigorously leafing. The fall frosts have yet to arrive.
Still, we ventured out to video a peek performance of our new-fangled grow-bag technique. The results can be seen HERE. We got about 6 pounds out of one sack. Kinda disappointing, but better than some yields (or lack thereof) from past experiments with towers, large containers, and cages.
Growing Sweet Potatoes in Grow Bags - Video Part 1
All of the prior attempts to grow sweet potatoes above ground have shown mixed but mostly meager results. Our one attempt at growing in the ground, in a raised bed, yielded just a hand full. There was just too much invasive rooting from our huge tulip poplar. In every case, we see lots of sweet potato vines growing in all directions.
It was noted that most of the tubers grew near the top where the soil was much drier. I would recommend backing off on the auto-drip watering and/or lay the bags out horizontally. We immediately shut off the emitters in the remaining 3 bags and will leave off watering entirely for a while.
We’ll update our progress when the tops begin to yellow and die back. So far, they are lush and green. But wait! That’s actually to our benefit. Did you all know how wonderful the edible sweet potato leaves are?
According to a recent study, sweet potato leaves have 3 times more vitamin B6, 5 times more vitamin C, and almost 10 times more riboflavin than actual sweet potatoes. Nutritionally, this makes the sweet potato greens similar to spinach, but sweet potato leaves have less oxalic acid, which gives some greens like spinach and chard a sharper taste.https://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/sweet-potato-greens)) The leaves, especially the younger ones, taste good. While we still have them, we’ll reap what nature has to offer. … Continue reading
How to Plant Sweet Potatoes
Prepare the sweet potato bed in a full-sun area around the time of the last spring frost, digging the ground to a depth of eight to 12 inches in order to allow the tubers' long roots to make use of moisture deep in the earth. To further provide the loose soil so essential to good tuber development, most gardeners prefer to plant in long, wide ridges that are at least 10 inches high. Rows are generally spaced around three-and-a-half feet apart. (A 10-foot row will produce four to eight pounds of potatoes.) Remove all deformity causing rocks and dirt clods, and work in average amounts of compost and wood ashes or rock phosphate. Potassium-rich materials will help the potatoes fill out properly, but, unless you're planting in very sandy soil, go easy with manure or other nitrogen-rich fertilizers that will encourage lush vines, stunt tuber development, and combined with excessive rainfall-can delay maturation. Sweet potatoes like a slightly-to-moderately acid soil (pH 5.2 to 6.7), which also discourages soil borne diseases that can mar tuber skins.
Once the earth has warmed up (usually three to four weeks after the last frost), use a hoe handle to poke holes about six inches deep and 12 inches apart. Bury the slips up to the last leaves, tamp down the dirt gently but well, and water thoroughly. Some two weeks later, mulch heavily with hay or grass clippings to eliminate the need for weeding and watering and to keep the soil soft for root development. Soon the thick, sprawling vines will smother most invading weeds. You might want to occasionally lift the longer vines to prevent them from rooting at the joints, and if rain is scarce, try to provide an inch of water a week until two weeks before harvesting. Use caution, though, as this vegetable survives dry spells—and even droughts—quite well, and overwatering encourages rot. Otherwise, once the plants are established, you can usually forget about them until harvest time, because, despite all the pests and diseases that can attack this crop, it's usually remarkably trouble-free.https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/how-to-grow-sweet-potatoes-zmaz88ndzgoe.aspx?PageId=2
Get Going with Growing!
As shown earlier, it's quite easy to create your own slips. Hint: find out if you can what variety you're using so you know the days to maturity. If you prefer to purchase plants (slips) check out the folks at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They know their stuff and carry a fairly wide selection of plants.https://www.southernexposure.com/potatoes-c-217.html
As always, we really like hearing from you all about your "experiments" and any tips or tricks you may have discovered along the way.
We'll leave you with this .....
"We come from the earth, we return to the earth, and
in-between we garden!" Nelson Eddy
Oh! Sweet Potato Recipes!! Here are two of our favorite sweet potato recipes.... SIMPLE, NUTRITIOUS and DELICIOUS... and the second one utilizes some of those garden herbs if you have them, (dried works fine if not).
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Macadamia Nuts Recipe
By Whole Foods
- 1/4 cup macadamia nuts (Editor's Note: it's equally good with pecans or walnuts)
- 4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for the dish
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 tablespoon fig or pomegranate balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread macadamia nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from oven, cool and chop. Increase oven temperature to 400°F.
Oil a baking dish. Cut sweet potatoes lengthwise into wedges and toss them in the baking dish with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender.
When potatoes are done, remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Transfer to a serving platter.
Whisk together remaining oil with vinegar, maple syrup and mustard. Drizzle over sweet potatoes and garnish with toasted macadamia nuts.
Nutritional Info: Per Serving: 290 calories (180 from fat), 21g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 350mg sodium, 28g carbohydrates, (5 g dietary fiber, 10g sugar), 3g protein.
An intriguing sweet and savory sweet potato dish that uses garden fresh herbs if you substitute the dried herbs for fresh garden herbs for summer. To substitute fresh herbs for dried herbs, use double the amount of fresh, (and vice versa. E.g., to substitute fresh herbs with dried herbs, use half the amount).
That may seem counterintuitive and opposite of what should be done but the dried herbs are packed down into a more concentrated batch, so for that reason, the same amount fresh would be less than the same amount dried, so you need more when it's the fresh herb.
Herb Roasted Sweet Potato Skins
By Whole Foods
- 4 medium sweet potatoes, halved lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley (or 6 Tbsp fresh)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tsp fresh)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tsp fresh)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried sage (or 1 tsp fresh)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. Pierce potatoes all over with a fork then arrange on a greased foil-lined baking sheet, cut sides down, and bake until tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside until cool enough to handle; reserve foil-lined baking sheet.
Arrange a rack in the oven about 6 inches from the heating element and preheat broiler. Scoop about half of the potato flesh from the skins, leaving a 1/2-inch thick wall around the edges and bottom of each half. (Reserve scooped out flesh for another use.) Cut each sweet potato shell lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips then arrange on the same foil-lined baking sheet in a single layer.
In a small bowl, combine oil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and pepper then brush all over potato skins and broil until browned in parts and piping hot, 4 to 6 minutes total.
Per Serving: 170 calories (70 from fat), 7g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 190mg sodium, 24g carbohydrates, (4 g dietary fiber, 10g sugar), 2g protein.
Wholefoods.com recipes is one of our favorite resources for healthy recipes with an extensive online recipe library.https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/roasted-sweet-potatoes-macadamia-nuts WARNING... you'll be entering the hunger zone if you visit there!
You may enjoy one of our favorite roasted sweet potato breakfast hash recipe on our family's recipe site.
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson
The leaves, especially the younger ones, taste good. While we still have them, we’ll reap what nature has to offer. Later on, we can be thankful for any tubers we get as a bonus.
Harvesting Sweet Potatoes in Grow Bags - Video Part 2
When to Plant Sweet Potatoes
By Sara Pacher of MotherEarthNews.com
Sweet potatoes are grown from slips—sprouts taken from the tubers. While sweet potato slips can be purchased from nurseries, seed houses and garden supply stores, it's easy to propagate them yourself. First, locate some tubers that haven't been treated or waxed to prevent sprouting. Then, some six to eight weeks before planting time, half bury them in a pan or box of rooting medium (moist sand, sawdust or chopped leaves will do) or suspend a potato with toothpicks halfway into a water-filled jar.
To be successful, keep these potato parents moist and at a temperature between 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. (The Japanese use the warmth of miniature compost heaps to start potato slips.) Approximately a month later, the first shoots will appear. When they're about six to nine inches long, cut them from the parent potato and remove and dispose of the bottom inch from each slip, because this particular segment sometimes harbors disease organisms.
Sweet potatoes will grow in poor soil that won't sustain most other vegetables, but yields from such plots will be sparse. Ideally, they do best in a well-drained sandy loam with a clay or clay-loam subsoil. Heavy clay, unless well-worked, produces misshapen roots, while a too-light soil creates long, stringy tubers.(https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/how-to-grow-sweet-potatoes-zmaz88ndzgoe.aspx?PageId=2