Sweet potatoes are not potatoes at all, so really, you can pronounce them any way you like. They are, however, delicious. And their vines can be incredibly lovely.
I stopped in to visit my friends at Antioch Urban Growers to pick up my sweet potato plants and clear up a few mysteries. Mark, as always, answered my endless questions with grace.
First of all, you should know sweet potatoes are a tropical perennial plant, which is why we’re only getting around to planting them here in June. They could not survive our crazy springs, so obviously there is no way they would survive our winters. Thus, we only grow them as annuals, harvesting them in the fall and starting over again with tender, little slips in a greenhouse in spring.
But wait. I thought you find a sweet potato with one of those eyes on it and plant the eye-chunk in the ground. No?
No. (Those are potatoes. Wrong plant. Silly me.)
There are two ways to do it:
1) You can start in early spring with a sweet potato if it’s been organically grown. Let it form eyes and cut it into chunks, so there’s at least one eye on each piece. Plant them in soil. (Indoors, or in a greenhouse. Remember, it’s still too cold outside.) At that point, your goal is the vine that begins to form, not actual sweet potatoes. Not yet.
Once vines have formed, you can cut them off and and immediately tuck each cutting into soil. They need warmth, sunlight and moisture, but within a week, tiny roots will begin to form.
After a few weeks, roots may be visible at the bottom of your tiny pot.
After a month to six weeks, the root system will be vigorous and the little vine will be ready to put in your garden.
Or, 2) You can go to Antioch Urban, where they have already rooted hundreds of slips in multiple color varieties, and nurtured them into healthy, gorgeous plants. 🙂 (Considering they are being sold for around two dollars, depending on size, it was an obvious decision for me.)
All sweet potato plants are edible, but some varieties are grown specifically for sweetness and intense flavor.
Others may have a milder flavor but very showy vines that are perfect for your edible landscaping needs. Either way, each plant produces a significant harvest. I decided to try a few of each so I could compare flavors. Of the garden varieties, I planted three purple and three orange. Of the ornamental edibles, I planted one with gorgeous chartreuse leaves and one with showy purple. Stay tuned for information on curing them after harvest and the results of my taste test. I have several fantastic sweet potato recipes I can’t wait to share with you as well!
It’s not too late to plant your own… we’ll call it a Grow-Along. All you need is enough room for the vines to spread and enough sunshine to remind them of their homeland. Decorative planters or even large hanging baskets are great urban options! (If it were me, I’d abandon all restraint and line every one of my sidewalks.) Wherever, you decide to plant them, I’d love to see picture updates in the comments!