Sweet potatoes, as we all know, are highly nutritious and can be used as a substitute to the usual potato. The red tuber variety is a rich source of vitamin A. Almost all parts of a sweet potato vine are edible; we can use the young stem and leaves in salad recipes, as well as in fry vegetable dishes.
In order to enjoy the real taste of sweet potatoes, we can always opt for planting the vine. Growing sweet potatoes are not difficult at all, especially in tropical and sub-tropical climatic conditions. Let’s take a look at how to grow sweet potatoes.
Growing Sweet Potatoes: How to Grow Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potato plants require optimum space and sunlight, with comparatively less water than other crops. Since they cannot tolerate frost, they should be planted after frost, for better yield. Though red tuber variety is most popularly grown, you can also opt for white or yellow tuber variety. Sweet potatoes thrive well in sandy soils; however, they can be grown in any soil type. You can grow sweet potatoes in vegetable gardens or as a part of container gardening.
First of all, prepare a raised soil bed (preferably sandy soil) in early spring. Raising the bed allows proper drainage of water and helps to develop good tubers. You can enrich the soil with organic fertilizers like farmyard compost. For growing sweet potatoes, runner cuttings (about 30 cm) are usually used.
It is advisable to remove all the older leaves, except the young leaves at the tip portion. Place these cuttings about 8-10 inches deep into the soil bed and cover them with soil. While doing so, ensure that the tip portion is left uncovered and there is enough space (about 12 inches) between any two plantations.
Water the sweet potato plantation regularly; within the first few weeks, you will observe root development in each leaf node. You will also notice the growth of new leaves. If cuttings are not available, you can plant the sweet potato tubers by covering them with soil. As the shoots (slips) develop and attain a length of about 15-20 cm, you can pull them off and plant them in the soil bed.
Since sweet potatoes are pest-resistant crops, there is generally no need for pesticides and insecticides. However, in case there is a sign of disease, you can make use of mild fungicides available in the market. Fertilizers with high nitrogen content should be avoided, as they enhance more vegetative growth. Hence, there may be a luxurious growth of leaves with poor development of tubers. Sweet potato plants hardly flower, under long-day conditions.
Cultivation of Sweet Potatoes
The plants should be watered regularly (about 1-2 inches per week) for optimum tuber growth. Less water (drought) will lead to poor tuber development; whereas, waterlogged soil may result in the rotting of tubers. Depending upon the climatic conditions, the tuber development of sweet potatoes varies. They require less duration in warmer areas (3-4 months after plantation) than colder regions (about 6-8 months).
You can dig for the tubers when the leaves turn yellow. Digging should be done carefully, about 16-18 inches away from the main stem. For storing freshly dug sweet potato tubers, cure them by drying in the sun for 2-3 days.
It is to be noted that sweet potatoes are invasive creepers and require proper maintenance while growing them with other crops. This is the reason why they are used as a perfect ground cover in gardening. In case, you are growing sweet corn or other crops of tall varieties, you can make use of sweet potato vines as a mulch to control weed growth.