Sweet Potatoes Grow Well in the Summer Heat

Categories : Planting Tips and Instructions
Sweet potatoes are different from your normal potato. When most potatoes die off in the hot summer sun, they love it and that is when your sweet potatoes will thrive! Sweet potato flesh is classified as moist or dry. Moist, deep orange types are sometimes called yams; the most popular varieties for home gardens are moist types, including Centennial and Georgia Jet.
Sweet potatoes are grown worldwide, from tropical regions to temperate climates. This warm-weather crop is remarkably nutritious and versatile. Each fleshy root is rich in vitamins A and C, along with many important minerals. Use them raw, boiled, or baked, in soups, casseroles, desserts, breads, or stir-fries—and don't forget to try some homemade sweet potato fries!
Sweet potatoes will grow in poor soil, but roots may be deformed in heavy clay or long and stringy in sandy soil. To create the perfect environment, build long, wide, 10-inch-high ridges spaced 3½ feet apart. (A 10-foot row will produce approximately 8 to 10 pounds of potatoes.) Work in plenty of organic compost, avoiding nitrogen-rich fertilizers that produce lush vines and stunted tubes. In the North, cover the raised rows with black plastic to keep the soil warm and promote strong growth.
It's best to plant root sprouts, called slips, and are available from nurseries and mail-order suppliers. You can also grow your own by saving a few roots from your previous crop, or by buying untreated roots. Please keep in mind that store-bought sweet potatoes are often waxed to prevent sprouting.
About six weeks before it's time to plant sweet potatoes outdoors in your zone, place the roots in a box of moist sand, sawdust, or chopped leaves in a warm spot (75 to 80 degrees). You can also use the method where you insert 3 toothpicks in the fatter end of the sweet potato and place it in a glass jar. Add some water until part of the sweet potato is covered. The shoots will sprout and when they reach 6-9 inches long, twist them at the end going into the potato until they twist loose. Put each of the slips into water until they grow a root of at least 2-3 inches. Congratulations, now they are ready to plant!
Sweet potatoes mature in 90 to 170 days and are extremely frost sensitive. Plant in full sun 3 to 4 weeks after the last frost when the soil has warmed. Make holes 6 inches deep and 12 inches apart. Bury slips up to the top leaves, press the soil down gently but firmly, and water well.
If you're not using black plastic, mulch the vines 2 weeks after planting to smother weeds, conserve moisture, and keep the soil loose for root development. Occasionally lift longer vines to keep them from rooting at the joints, or they will put their energy into forming many undersized tubers at each rooted area rather than ripening the main crop at the base of the plant. Otherwise, handle plants as little as possible to prevent wounds that might be invaded by disease spores.
If the weather is dry, provide 1 inch of water a week until 2 weeks before harvesting, then let the soil dry out a bit. Don't over water or the plants—which can withstand dry spells better than rainy ones—may rot.
You can harvest as soon as leaves start to yellow, but the longer a crop is left in the ground, the higher the yield and vitamin content. Once frost blackens the vines, however, tubers can quickly rot.
Use a spading fork to dig tubers on a sunny day when the soil is dry. Remember that tubers can grow a foot or more from the plant, and that any nicks on their tender skins will encourage spoilage. Dry tubers in the sun for several hours, then move them to a well-ventilated spot and keep at 85 to 90 degrees for 10 to 15 days. After they are cured, store at around 55 degrees, with a humidity of 75 to 80 percent. (Information by Rodale's Organic Life.)
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