Sweet potatoes are easy to grow, but they’re a long-season crop. So devote a space to them and just forget about them until autumn, as they’ll need about 4 months to mature.

The softer, orange-fleshed variety of sweet po...

Sweet potatoes are grown from slips. You can start your own slips, about 6 weeks before your expected planting date,  from potatoes purchased at the market.  Cut each potato in half, stick toothpicks halfway down each end, and suspend them in a glass of water. Half the potato should be above the water, and half below. Roots will grow from the bottom and vines will grow from the top. Place them in a sunny window and you’ll have some nice greenery to enjoy in the winter. Each start can produce up to 50 slip sprouts.

When you’re nearly ready to plant, carefully twist each vine from the potato. Lay each vine in a shallow bowl of water; roots will quickly appear in the bowl. Change the water to keep it fresh, and discard any vines that wilt or don’t grow roots.

When the roots are 1″ to 2″ long, they’re ready to plant. It is essential to have loose, well drained soil.  Since the potato is growing underground, loose soil allows the potato to grow large and delicious!

Plant each slip so that the roots are below ground and the vines are above, taking care not to bump the vine. Allow 12-18″ between plants and 3-4′ between rows. Press the dirt into place around the plant to remove any air pockets. A dose of compost is a great idea at planting time, but don’t fertilize them any further since this just tends to produce more foliage without assisting the growing potato.

Keep your sweet potatoes well-weeded until the vines fill in to cover the area. Water as needed through the season, but stop watering 3-4 weeks before harvest time to help prevent them from splitting.

Rotate your sweet potato plantings yearly to help reduce loss due to pests.

Vining sweet potatoes will eventually cover every bit of soil in sight. However, there’s a lot of real estate between those plants when first planted. If you’d like to take advantage of the extra space then fill in with some taller herbs including oregano, dill, thyme or stevia.

After the vines begin to yellow it’s time to harvest your treasures! It’s best to dig them up before frost so stay tuned to the weather; if a frost is approaching then go ahead and dig ’em, ideally on a dry day. Just be gentle because the potatoes are relatively close to the surface and it’s easy to bruise them. Potatoes can grow up to a foot away from the vine, so be gentle everywhere in the potato patch.

Allow the potatoes to lay on top of the ground for a few hours after digging. Then put them in boxes lined with newspaper and keep them in a warm place for 7-10 days while they cure and their natural sweetness reaches the peak of perfection. Next move them to a cool area for long term storage, ideally at 55-60 degrees.

Sweet potatoes are one of those magic foods that are so good for you! They have a high nutritional value, offering you 65% of your daily dose of vitamin C and 700% of the RDA for vitamin A. They’re also high in calcium, folate, potassium and beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index (17 vs. 29 for a white potato), making them a healthy potato option for diabetics.

I’m lucky enough to usually get a great crop of sweet potatoes in most years and am always looking for new ways to prepare them. I stumbled on some recipes in the JR Watkins Cook Book (1936) for some new ideas in addition to some of my other favorites.

I try and cook extra sweet potatoes when I’m making any dish with them; I save the leftovers to mash and add to waffles, pancakes or biscuits for some extra flavor, fiber and nutrition.

Here are some recipes for you to try out:


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