Living the Sweet Potato Life. Actually, a recent study found that the most long-lived people today have a diet that includes sweet potatoes. Along with being one of the most nutritious foods they are also an easy crop to grow and to store for the Winter. Did you know that you can also eat the leaves? I’ve just recently found that out and they’re pretty good too. You can eat them raw in a salad or sautéed with onions and bacon, or numerous other ways you can think of to eat a green leafy vegetable. This plant is also one of the few that is capable of supplying all you need nutritionally if it were a main part of your diet. So, if you only had water and sweet potatoes to eat, you could survive, and that’s good to know.
What does a sweet potato plant look like? Here is a photo of how one section of our sweet potatoes have gone wild and intertwined with Morning Glories and Firecracker Vine. In this smaller photo I’ve cropped only the sweet potato blossoms and leaves. They’re quite beautiful.This variety is a purple sweet potato. They look a lot like Morning Glories and their blossoms close up similarly at night. The regular orange colored sweet potatoes have a leaf that has more points, but those leaves are edible too.
This section (shown) are volunteer plants. We grow our regular garden inside a fence because the deer will come and eat an entire patch of these plants to the ground overnight.
Growing Sweet Potatoes
You can grow an entire Winter supply of sweet potatoes for your family from one or two actual sweet potato tubers. Really, not kidding. If you place a sweet potato in a little water, it will sprout. These sprouts are called “slips” and each slip forms one plant. Leave the original sweet potato in the water while the slips grow out from it and the slips will begin to form roots once they are about 5 inches tall. Gently separate the slips from the potato and place those in a separate glass of water. Their roots will quickly increase. Once they form a good root system, they are ready to plant out in the garden. I’ve gotten 40 slips easily from one sweet potato.
Does one sweet potato plant form only one potato? No, one plant has a tremendous potential of producing numerous potatoes if you do it right. We haven’t harvested yet now, in 2016, but here is a photo of one of our plants last year (from 2015). This was our best plant and yes, this is only one plant. It produced 15 pounds of potatoes! We were happily surprised and just had to take a photo. Not every plant produces like this due to varying growing conditions, but every plant has a huge potential.
So, what do they need to grow? Here is what works for us. They need regular water. They like lots of sun, and loose fertile dirt. Since the roots are what is expanding, it seems logical to make that expansion as easy as possible. We grow in dirt that has years of mulch that has composted into loose dirt. How do you keep the soil loose? Brown corrugated cardboard. We get cardboard from large appliance boxes and cut them open to lay flat. On your prepared garden bed, lay down some drip irrigation then on top of that lay your cardboard. Wet the cardboard and poke holes in it to plant your sweet potatoes through into the soil beneath. Be careful not to damage your drip irrigation. Then mulch on top of the cardboard all around your plants. Cover all of the cardboard. Water them regularly and don’t walk on the cardboard. Let them be until its time to dig them up in the fall. That’s it. Sweet and easy.