Growing Sweet Potatoes – From Scratch

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By Himanee Gupta-Carlson

 

Sweet potatoes from Pleasant Valley Farm, photo courtesy of Pattie Garrett

Late last winter, I wanted to try growing sweet potatoes from my own slips. I asked Paul Arnold, of Pleasant Valley Farm, for advice.

Arnold, a year-round produce vendor at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, donates a bin of these tasty, nutrient dense tubers each week to the Franklin Community Center food pantry. He pulled out a few and handed them to me.

“Cut these in half and put them in water or very wet soil,” he said. “Then transplant the sprouts when it’s warm enough for them to survive.”

I followed Arnold’s advice but started too late. By the time the sweet potatoes began to sprout slips – small roots trailing in water from the base of the tuber and purple-green leaves at the top – it was late July. Our gardens were full and so was my schedule. The slips never made it into the ground.

This year, I have a plan: I will start my slips next week, and transplant them in mid-June.

Sweet potatoes, unlike “regular” potatoes, are the root of a vine. The vine roots itself into the soil and produces a root, each time it touches the soil. Slips are the start of that process.

Although sweet potatoes require time, sunshine, and warmth to prosper, they are becoming an increasingly popular crop.

One sweet potato, cut in half lengthwise (producing two halves each with a round base) will sprout slips. These roots, once planted in deep trenches or raised rows of soil, will each yield several sweet potatoes.

To grow slips, do as Arnold suggests: Gather a few sweet potatoes, and cut them in half. Place the halves in damp potting soil or water, with half the tuber submerged. Use toothpicks to keep the sweet potatoes upright in water-filled jars.

Like plant cuttings, the sweet potatoes over six to eight weeks will first produce roots and then leafy stems. When the stems are about six inches tall, twist them gently off the tuber, and place them in fresh water for about a week until a new root forms. After all frost danger has passed, transplant them into the soil.

The Saratoga Farmers’ Market is 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays through April at the Lincoln Baths Building in the Spa State Park. Our outdoor season begins Wednesday, May 2 at High Rock Park. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; and contact friends@saratogafarmersmarket.org for volunteer opportunities.