It's hard to find a more rewarding plant than the sweet potato. Easy to grow with a result that is amazing to eat, the sweet potato plant, a root vegetable, has long been a diet staple all over the world. It was cultivated in the tropics of South America 5,000 years ago.
The warm-weather vegetable is native to Central and South America, but is eaten daily in Africa, Polynesia, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, India, North America, New Zealand, Vietnam, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and in some European countries.
In the United States, it's most commonly grown in the South. And it's in the U.S. where there is the issue and confusion between the sweet potato and the yam. When Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, and landed in what was to become America, Europeans had their first taste of the sweet potato. After decades of variations on the name, sweet potato appeared in the 1775 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
It's also here where the sweet potato became commonly referred to, interchangeably, as a yam. In reality, the yam and the sweet potato are completely unrelated. The sweet potato (Convolvuaceae) is from the Morning Glory family, and the yam (Dioscoreaceae) is a tuber or bulb of a tropical vine. The sweet potato is primarily grown in tropical North America and the yam is grown in Central and South America, West Indies, Africa and Asia. The sweet potato is moist and tastes sweet. The Yam is drier and has a starchy taste.
Sweet potatoes are not only extremely tasty, but they are an excellent source of nutrition. Fat-free, they are high in fiber (there are four grams in a medium-sized sweet potato). Sweet potatoes are also low in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat. They're a terrific source of Vitamin B6, Manganese, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. A small (100grams) sweet potato has 2 grams of protein, .5 gram of fat, 233 grams of carbs, 20 mg. of calcium, .9 gram of Iron, 8100 I.U. of Vitamin A, .7 mg. of niacin, and 22 mg. of asorbic acid.
How to Plant
- You can begin to plant when foliage turns yellow and the ground has warmed.
- Choose a slightly acidic soil, one with a pH between 5.0 and 6.5
- Sweet potatoes are grown from small rooted pieces of tuber, which are called slips. Make your own: slice a sweet potato in half (lengthwise) and lay it on top of dampened potting soil. Top slices with a few inches of soil; keep moist and warm. Small roots will develop in a few days and will be ready to remove and plant when the foliage reaches 4 to 8 inches tall (this will take about six weeks). To avoid disease-free roots, buy slips from a reputable supplier.
- If you live where there's a short winter, you can start new slips from 6″ vine tips, and cut before frost. The cuttings are placed in water. When they develop roots, plant them in soil in a sunny location until it's time to plant outdoors.
- In regard to spacing, remember that the vines spread and need plenty of room. Space the plants about 12″ to 18″ inches apart and 3″ to 4″ between each row. Keep the area around the planting clear and make sure weeds don't start to grow.
- Foliage is usually the result from feeding sweet potatoes. So experts suggest you simply plant in soil high in organic matter.
- Water regularly, but during the final three to four weeks before harvest, don't water. This will prevent the mature tuber from splitting.
- Pest-y problems: Avoid disease by using certified disease-free sweet potato plants, and by choosing disease-resistant varieties. Experts suggest you change the location of your sweet potato garden annually because it's a way to avoid wireworms and root-knot nematodes. Mice may be an issue, too.
Variety of Colors
Sweet potatoes usually have orange flesh, but sweet potatoes can be white, yellow and even purple on the outside.
Suggested Sweet Potato Plant Varieties:
* Beauregard – Pale reddish skin with dark orange flesh. Popular commercial variety. (100 days)
* Bush Porto Rico – Copper skin with orange flesh. Compact vines with big yields. Good for smaller gardens. (110 days)
* Centennial – Good disease resistance and relatively quick maturing. (90-100 days)
* Georgia Jet – Reddish skin with orange flesh. Good choice for shorter season. (90 days)
* Patriot – Copper skin/Orange flesh. Great pest resistance. Good choice for organic gardens. (100 days)
* Ruddy – Better pest resistance (insects, diseases and nematodes) than Beauregard. (100 days)