Sweet Potato Starts and Plantings
By Zac Hoppenstedt
Summer is right around the corner and many are looking to produce more food at home these days. The sweet potato is a highly nutritious staple crop that can be easy to grow. Last year we discussed harvest and curing but in this edition I will cover “starts” and planting. Nurseries are usually taking orders for planting stock in early/middle spring and shipping out the first week of June. So I thought it would be a great time to cover the basics of growing this superfood. The roots of the sweet potato are its most commercially-important and commonly consumed plant part; although, every part of the plant is edible (stems, leaves, flowers). Fresh roots can be consumed raw, boiled, baked or fried, among other preparations.Roots of the sweet potato develop beneath soil and on average produce 4-10 edible roots per plant (2-3 lbs). However, yield is variable and largely dependent on specific cultivar, propagule, and other factors like soil type.
Sweet potato display by Extension Master Food Volunteer, Judy Masonis. from recent “Garden to Plate” activity.
In place of true seed, a new sweet potato root crop is propagated by transplanting stem cuttings, i.e. the sprouts produced by roots produced in the previous season. Horticulturists and commercial nurseries refer to the stem cuttings as “slips”. Fresh slips are produced commercially in soil,shallow trenches are planted with roots produced in the previous year. Small scale growers can produce slips in small pots with roots covered in potting soil or sand, and of course the tried and true method of suspending a submerged root end in clean water with toothpicks. When the slips grow to approximately 1’ in length, they are harvested and directly transplanted. When sprouting slips from roots harvest in the previous year,growers will raise temperature in their storage area to 70-85° F and decrease relative humidity to 75-85% to induce pre-sprouting—this will help the process move more quickly
Optimum length and quality of sweetpotato slips (photos taken day of harvest)