Time to Plant Sweet Potatoes
by Wayne Allen
Now that the unseasonably cool spring weather is behind us, it’s time to get your sweet potatoes started. Sweet potatoes need a long season of sunny days to mature, so you need to them into the ground by early June.
In the same plant family as morning glories, sweet potatoes won’t forgive you for letting them get cold. They need warm soil, so now is the time to prepare your garden for these delicious tubers. You’ll need to make a raised ridge in a place with full sun all day, working the soil and perhaps covering it with some black plastic for a week or two to warm the soil.
Sweet potato plants are sold as bunches of rooted cuttings; stems with a few leaves and well-developed roots. We get fresh shipments of sweet potato plants weekly all during May. Keep them moist until you’re ready to plant; wrapping a damp paper towel around the roots works well. After planting, water them regularly to keep the soil moist while they develop. Control the weeds in your row until the plants spread out enough to shade the ground.
Which sweet potatoes should you grow? Here’s a rundown of the most popular varieties:
Georgia Jets are the sweetest of sweet potatoes. They grow extremely fast, producing #1 size potatoes in only 90 days, and extra-high yields. Jets have deep orange inside color with moist flesh and a marvelous flavor. The outside skin is so red it is almost purple.
Vardaman is the next sweetest type we sell at GoodSeed Farm. A bush variety with the deepest, brightest inside color of all sweet potatoes, Vardaman has golden yellow outside skin that darkens after digging.
Beauregard has been accepted by farmers everywhere. Chances are this is the sweet potato that is available at your local market. The outside color is red-orange and the inside color is orange. The Beauregard is a quick maturing potato and has a good shape.
Centennial has carrot color inside with copper to orange outside skin, and produces “Baby Bakers” in about 90 days. Perhaps the most widely recognized sweet potato, the Centennial has been used in many bake-off contests.
Porto Rico “Bunch” is a favorite of gardeners with limited space Also called “Bush” and “Vineless,” the Porto Rico sweet potato has a copper-colored outside skin and light red flesh. With delicious “old-fashioned” flavor, it is an excellent baking potato producing “Baby Bakers” in 100 days.
White Yams are one of America’s oldest varieties. Known also as Triumph, Southern Queen, Poplar Root, “Choker” and White Bunch, are white as cotton inside and out, and sweet as sugar. White yams are the driest sweet potato.
Be very careful not to over-fertilize sweet potatoes, or you’ll get beautiful lush plants with tiny potatoes. Using manure can cause fungus diseases. The best way is to use a low-nitrogen fertilizer like Espoma Garden Tone (4-6-6) or other bone meal-based organic fertilizers. Sprinkle 4-5 pounds per 100 foot row on the ground before you till the row.
Set sweet potato plants 12 to 18 inches apart, preferably on a wide, raised ridge about 8 inches high. A ridge dries better in the spring and also warms earlier. Covering the ridge with black plastic can speed early season growth by capturing and storing more of the sun’s heat in the soil under the plastic cover. The vines of spreading varieties need a great deal of space, so allow at least 3 to 4 feet between rows.
After early cultivation (which is not necessary with black plastic), sweet potatoes need minimal care to keep down weeds. Once the vines spread to cover the ground, little weeding is required. Irrigate if an extended drought occurs.
Do not water during the last 3 to 4 weeks before harvest to protect the developing roots. Sweet potatoes will be ruined by frost, so make sure you harvest them as soon as they are ready. If an early frost takes you by surprise, harvest them immediately before the decay from the dead vines travels into the potatoes and rots them.
Mark this event on your calendar: The Adams County Ohio Horseman’s Council is holding a “Fun Horse Show Series” at the Adams County Fairgrounds, to benefit the Adams County 4-H Horse Program. Gymkhana classes start at 7PM Friday May 24th. Jumping, English & western showmanship, horsemanship and pleasure riding classes start at 9AM Saturday May 25th. Contact Kim Baker at 937-779-7631 or email@example.com.
Steve Boehme and his wife Marjorie own GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located at 9736 Tri-County Highway, near Winchester, Ohio. More information is available atwww.goodseedfarm.comor call (937) 587-7021.
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