I love sweet potatoes!
Sweet potato plants are typically grown from slips as opposed to seeds. The slips are created from baby vines that sprout on stored sweet potatoes.
If you gently detach the vines and place them in a jar with a little water, they will send out roots and start to leaf. Those little plants are called slips.
On commercial farms, slips are planted in late spring or early summer. Sweet potatoes are tropical plants and love the heat of summer.
The next photos were taken on sweet potato planting day at Delvin Farms in College Grove, Tennessee, on June 8, 2015.
Thousands of sweet potato slips were planted.
I have a fascination for farm machines that get a job done in simple, efficient ways. This sweet potato planter is ingenious.
As the tractor moves forward, farmers in the red trailer feed sweet potato slips into a device that drops them in the ground, covers them with dirt, and gives them a sip of water from the yellow tank.
Let’s look a little closer. Here are the guys dropping the slips into a feeder one by one.
At the soil level, a stationary v-grooved piece of metal cuts a thin gully in the dirt. The slip drops into the gulley, and two fixed metal wheels move the side soil around the slip as the tractor moves forward. A squirt of water is given to each plant from the yellow tank. Ingenious, right?!
In three to four months, the sweet potatoes will be ready for harvest.
In 2012, I planted about 15 sweet potato slips in a 4 x 13-foot raised bed. I had a very low yield, as you can see from the photo below. I never grew them again; they took up too much real estate for the yield. In retrospect, I suspect my soil was too rich from the nitrogen in the compost I added. Nitrogen leads to lots of leaf growth and not so much root growth, something to think about when growing root crops. The chickens, however, were thrilled to scratch for worms and insects in the newly turned soil. That was the plus.
With this not so productive past experience trying to grow sweet potatoes, you might imagine how excited I was to walk out of the YMCA just as the Y’s landscaping team was converting the entryway garden from summer to winter plants. The summer garden was filled with flowers and ornamental sweet potato vines such as the lime-green Margaritas, the blackish-purple Sweethearts, and the grayish-green, pink-veined Tricolors.
The cool-weather planting consisted of pansies.
What caught my attention was the three mature sweet potatoes sitting on the brick ledge.
Hey landscaping company, I was that crazy, astonished woman who walked by and asked if the sweet potatoes really came out of the raised bed. “Of course,” they said. In all my years of planting window boxes in Boston as a newlywed, I never grew a sweet potato from the ornamental vines. It never occurred to me that the vines would grow vegetables.
That is what I love about growing food — there is always something to learn, and often what you learn is astonishing!
All of this leads to why, on March 26, 2020, I decided to drop a sprouting sweet potato from my larder into the dirt near the raised bed where I was planting unsweet potatoes.
Fast forward to May 16th when I spied a random clump of leaf growth in one of the dirt paths between the raised beds. It took me a minute to figure out the leaves were from the sweet potato I had planted.
Five months later, to my surprise and delight, I dug up five pounds of sweet potatoes; a few potatoes from each of those vines that turned into individual slips!
While digging up the potatoes, I found this spidery-looking thing in the dirt. I’m guessing it was the mother sweet potato.
This variety of sweet potato is so delicious and richly colored, I am going to try and spout it for a potato crop next year. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the variety.
I washed a few potatoes to use for my favorite quick dinner — Sheet Pan Supper: Italian Sausage, Peppers, Onions, and Potatoes. I forgot to add the onions! The white potatoes came from the yard, as well.
Sometimes I spiralize the sweet potatoes–for fun.
I mix the potato core from the spiralizer and the slinky-like potatoes with olive oil, garlic pepper, and salt, and roast them in a 425º oven. We call this side dish Nuts and Bolts Potatoes.
Here are a few other ways to prepare sweet potatoes.
Mrs. Lombard’s Portuguese Kale Soup
Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes
Roasted Butternut Squash (or Sweet Potatoes), Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries
Melissa’s Sweet Potato Casserole
Pumpkin (or Sweet Potato) Bread Pudding
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