Every year I say I am going to grow sweet potatoes, and every year I procrastinate.
Maybe its because Im not really a fan.
I know they are supposed to be good for us. Filled with vitamins A and C and beta carotene, sweet potatoes are ranked number one in nutrition by food watchdogs, the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Yet, along with raisins and cucumbers, sweet potatoes are among the few foods I dont find appealing.
While I cant touch raisins at all, I can eat cucumbers and sweet potatoes if they are prepared a particular way. Ill eat a cucumber if it is peeled, seeded, cubed in small pieces and hidden in a salad. I prefer sweet potatoes savory rather than sweet, French fried and served with ranch dressing instead of with sugar and cinnamon or candied with brown sugar and marshmallows.
Yet even though the National Gardening Association claims sweet potatoes can be grown anywhere, even in northeast Ohio, Im surprised that I havent taken the plunge.
According to the NGA, growing sweet potatoes isnt the same as growing regular potatoes. All that takes is to plant a sprouted seed potato and cover up the plants stem as it grows. But to grow sweet potatoes we need something called slips.
Slips are small shoots that grew from a mature sweet potato. We can order slips from the Internet or we can start our own.
Not only is it easy, most of us have probably done it. Just as we did when we were in elementary school, cut a sweet potato in sections and put one in a glass of water with half the potato above the water and half below. Stick toothpicks in each section to help prop it out of the water and put them in a sunny window. In a few weeks, the potatoes should be filled with sprouts and roots.
Once the roots are about an inch long, twist them gently off the potato being careful to get the entire shoot, roots and all. Put the slips in a bowl of water with the tops hanging over the edge. Keep the water fresh and toss out any slips that dont look healthy.
Sweet potatoes need a 100 to 110 day growing season, and many growers use a cold frame to start slips and keep them healthy until they can be moved to the garden. If spring is mild and warm, the transplants can be put outside early, but be careful of a late frost.
Like any other tender plant, the slips will need to be hardened off before planting permanently outdoors.