Sweet potatoes are tasty root vegetables, adapted to tropical and subtropical climates. They are a rich source of carbohydrates (both simple and complex), proteins, dietary fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin B, and vitamin C. They are superior in nutritional content than other culinary vegetables. They can adapt to different types of soil and growth conditions in a vegetable garden.
Sweet potatoes are very easy to grow and maintain, particularly in warmer areas with long growing seasons. They are also planted as ground covers in garden beds to control weed growth. Many gardening enthusiasts prefer maintaining these potato vines as ornamental plants.
Plantation Site: The most challenging step is selecting a plantation site that meets the growth requirements of this tropical crop. They grow best in well-drained sandy soils and in areas that receive full sun. Ideal conditions are warm nights, moderate rainfall (at least 500-750 mm annually), slightly acidic soil (pH 5-6.5), and a long growing period.
Soil Preparation: Mix garden soil with farmyard compost and sand (if necessary) to make it fertile and to ensure proper drainage. These potatoes cannot tolerate extreme cold climates and frost. Considering this, the ideal time to prepare the soil is 3-4 weeks before heavy frost. This way, you can grow sweet potatoes immediately after the frost when the soil temperature measures approximately 70° F.
Selecting a Variety: There are many varieties of this plant, which differ in flesh and skin color. Check for the type that suits the soil and growth conditions in your area. Always select healthy, disease-free tubers with intact skin and those that are free of soft or rotten spots. Seek advice from your local horticulturist if you are not sure about the variety.
Planting: Sweet potatoes are propagated from tubers and slips (vine cuttings). You can bury them halfway in soil or water to promote slip formation. When the slips are about 6-8 inch long, cut them by using a sharp scalpel or knife. Place the slips in the soil (½ an inch deep) in a slanting position, maintaining a space of about 12-18 inches between two plants. Plant the slips as soon as you cut them from the mother tuber.
Growing Indoors: Follow the same tips mentioned above to prepare the soil and promote slip formation. But instead of growing a slip in garden soil, plant it in a large container with potting soil and place it in a sunlit area like a sunny window.
Aftercare: After care mainly involves regular irrigation of the plants, especially during the tuber formation stage. Very dry soil results in small-sized tubers, whereas a waterlogged soil causes rotting. You should keep the soil moist, but not wet. Also, keep an eye out for weed growth and diseases like root-knot nematodes and wireworms.
Once the plants get established in the soil, you can harvest the leaves throughout the season. However, frequent removal of leaves is not advisable, as it may reduce the tuber size. In warm regions, these potatoes can be harvested within 3-4 months after plantation, whereas the growing period is longer in colder areas. An easy way to identify mature plants is by checking for yellow coloration of the leaves. You can dig the soil around the main stem and gently pull the tubers to harvest them.