Sweet Potatoes

Ah…sweets for the sweet. These are my daughter’s favorite and a perfect fit for Central Florida. Sweet potatoes like it hot and they like it sandy–two hallmarks of our state! Now mind you, as with all vegetables, these will grow solely on their own with no help from you. I know this, because my kids have “forgotten” a few of these gems in the dirt during harvest, and the little fellas popped sprouts the following season! I do love easy.

sweet potato flower 2009

However, something interesting about growing sweet potatoes is the way you sprout them, also known as “slips.” The method is very similar to “rooting” a branch from one of your favorite plants. Simply cut the branch off, half-submerge it in water and watch tiny roots form at the base where it was cut. Voila! Ready for transplant.

creating slips

With sweet potatoes, you cut a potato in half, perch it on a glass of water, half-submerged and watch the roots grow. Place in a sunny window or patio and be sure to keep an eye on your water level. The bottom needs to remain submerged. Refill when necessary.

sweet potato slips have sprouted

You’ll also get some “shoots” out the top which is the beginning of your next sweet potato plant. Easy, but there is the “wait” factor while these kids sprout. So don’t wait. First sign spring is near, get busy. Once the green shoots appear, you can GENTLY pluck an entire sprout-shoot-root from your potato and plant in the soil, or plant potato, shoots, roots and all–your choice. In the store, you’ll find these shoots available for purchase without the potato. Rots. ICK. But the soil doesn’t mind. Compost rots, too, ya know. 😉

planting sweet slips

They like loose, sandy soil and as light feeders, don’t require too much attention. They like it warm and they take their time growing, up to 140 days for some varieties but at least 100 days or more. I’ve planted my first crop in June and began harvesting in October, continuing to collect bounty through December.  They don’t like the cold, so clear the remainder for storage before the temps dip too low.

blanket of sweets

They need plenty of room as they will spread far and wide. As they near maturity, you can ease back on the water.

To harvest, begin digging for your buried treasure when the leaves begin to yellow. Be gentle and use your gloved hands. Garden fork (trowels) will break the skin and prevent proper storage. For longer storage, you can cure them by laying them out in the sun for a day, then moving them to a warm, shady spot for about a week. This should make them last for several months in a root cellar environment. If you’re like me, you’ll eat them sooner rather than later. Like in our sweet potato pie! Hm, mm, good. This recipe is the REAL thing.

Problems: Nematodes can be a nuisance, hence the friendly marigold. Generally speaking, marigolds repel nematodes, yet can attract slugs and spider mites. Your choice.

Good Companions: Beets, carrots.

Bad Companions: Regular potatoes, tomatoes.

Health Benefits: You know the rule, the deeper and brighter the color, the more powerful the antioxidant and sweet potatoes are no exception. Other than offering protection against free radical damage, sweet potatoes can help regulate blood sugar. Their high fiber content works to slow and steady the pace of digestion and can increase blood levels of adiponectin in persons with type 2 diabetes, a protein hormone produced by our fat cells, which serves as an important modifier of insulin metabolism. The B vitamins and folate in sweet potatoes help boost brain power, preserve memory. If this wasn’t enough, sweet potatoes are one of the best foods for battling inflammation in the body. Eat on!

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