Growing Sweet Potatoes

A metal sink filled with soil and growing sweet potato vines

You can grow sweet potatoes from slips that you've also grown yourself. One sweet potato can supply a dozen or more slips. Here's how to start the sweet potato slips, how to grow sweet potatoes, and how to harvest, cure and store them.

Growing Sweet Potatoes from Slips

I'm a big fan of container gardening. Containers help to expand your garden space, or you can magically make a garden where you don't even have dirt by using containers

I'm also a fan of using whatever you have as containers.

Containers also help keep your plants safe from garden marauders. The first time I tried to grow sweet potatoes I planted them in the ground, and an armadillo dug them up and ate them.

That's one of the reasons I now grow sweet potatoes in this metal sink. We have gophers and moles, and the raccoons who steal my cantaloupes every year just before they get ripe.

I'm not sure of this metal sink's original purpose. About ten years ago a friend brought it to us to use as a horse feeder. 

After serving in that capacity for several years, it sat in a corner of the yard holding discarded baling wire for awhile.

We assume that it was a sink. It has a home-welded frame with two half-barrel-like stainless steel sink cavities. Each side has a drain hole, which makes it perfect as a plant container.

Small sweet potato plants growing in a container (metal sink)

One spring I cleaned out the baling wire it was holding, and moved the sink to the garden. 

We have plans to continue to enlarge our garden by moving the fence and building even more raised beds, but for now I've expanded my planting space (do we ever have enough planting space?) by using some containers: big feed tubs, a trash can for potatoes, and now this metal sink.

I set the sink so that the drain holes are on the low end so excess water will run right out. I filled it up with soil and compost and turned it into a raised bed for sweet potatoes.

Growing sweet potato slips

Sweet potatoes are grown from "slips" which you can buy from a garden center, or you can grow your own like I did.

I know that many garden websites will tell you not to grow potatoes or sweet potatoes from grocery store tubers, that they are often treated with something to keep them from sprouting. 

Seriously? I don't think I've ever had a potato NOT sprout in my cupboard. How about you?

Growing sweet potato slips to plant in the garden.

So, just choose a potato, or several. I had one left, and from that one sweet potato tuber, I grew enough slips to fill my metal raised bed. 

Here's how:

Stick 3 or 4 toothpicks in the middle of the potato to hold it in a glass or a jar. 

The pointy end should face up. The roots will grow from the rounded end so put that end in the jar and add enough water to keep the bottom of the potato submerged.

A woman's hand holding rooted sweet potato slips

After a week or so (or maybe a little longer) you'll have some little plants growing from the top of the potato.

Keep enough water in the jar so the bottom of the potato is below the water level.

When the slips are a couple of inches tall, you can carefully twist them from the potato and put them in another glass of water to root.

They root very quickly; it only takes a couple of days.

A sweet potato in a jar of water.

The potato will continue to grow "babies" where you removed the first slips, so leave it in the jar of water and grow a few more.

In fact, the potato will grow roots from the round end too and when you're ready to plant everything, you can plant the rooted potato too.

A woman's hand holding a sweet potato slip with roots.

Wait until there's no chance of frost before planting your sweet potato slips outside. They like warm soil and can't tolerate frost. 

Plant your slips deep in the soil, with just the top leaves above the soil level.

From that one potato, I planted eleven slips plus the potato itself, so I have twelve sweet potato plants growing in the metal sink.

Sweet potatoes are often grown as an ornamental plant, so it will be a pretty addition to your garden too.

A sweet potato growing in a container, mulched to conserve the moisture in the soil.

I mulched with old hay to help retain moisture in the soil.

A trick to grow bigger sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are vigorous growers. Everywhere that the stem of the plant touches the soil, roots will form.

However, this will result in more and tinier potatoes. If you can stop this indiscriminate rooting, you'll harvest bigger tubers.

All you have to do is put a barrier between the top of the soil and the joints of the sweet potato vines. 

A simple way to do this is to tear brown paper bags into pieces and place them on top of the soil. The vines will touch the paper but won't grow new roots because they aren't actually touching the soil.

The paper will get wet in the rain and allow water into the soil.

You can mulch on top of the paper pieces, or if you've already mulched, you can place the paper on top.

When to harvest sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes can be harvested when the leaves and the ends of the vines begin to turn yellow, or you can leave them in the ground until right before the first frost.

Frost will kill the vines, so don't procrastinate too long.

In order to avoid cutting into the tubers when you harvest, put on your gardening gloves and dig them out

Curing sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes need to be cured before you eat or store them. But don't worry, it's easy.

Pur your potatoes in a single layer in a warm, humid place - the temperature should be about 85°F and about 90% humidity. 

After 4-6 days your potatoes should be cured. During this time the sugar content increases, the color of the flesh increases, and any small nicks or bruises should heal.

How to store sweet potatoes

You might be tempted to store sweet potatoes in the refrigerator, but this is not the ideal place. 

Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated place, such as in a basement or root cellar. Don't store them next to a heat source such as a furnace or hot water heater. Your sweet potatoes should keep for about three months in this situation.

However, you can successfully store them for awhile in a dark corner of your pantry or even in the corner of your kitchen counter. At room temperature sweet potatoes will last about one month.

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Don't let a lack of garden space keep you from growing sweet potatoes. They are often grown as ornamental plants in containers, so put your landscaping to work for you! Here's what you need to know to grow sweet potatoes in containers.


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