The Sweet Side of the Sweet Potato Plant
Sweet potato is a veggie that deserves our attention because of its unique flavor. This veggie can be found in many supermarkets across the country as the natives take full advantage of this superfood.
Though sold in the supermarket’s however, many homeowners grow these veggies from their backyards. Sweet potatoes can be added to soups, stews, steam, bake, and fry foods just to name a few.
Sweet potatoes complement our famous peas soup and dumpling, which many tourists enjoy as they visit these islands so if you haven’t tried sweet potatoes as yet be sure and do so on your visit to Nassau which is the capital of the Bahamas.
In fact, if you visit any of our family islands ask about our famous peas soup and dumpling. Trust me you will enjoy it.
Sweet potato is not only limited to the island of the Bahamas but is grown worldwide on a wide scale by farmers and in many home gardens.
But how is sweet potato grown and care for, Let’s take a closer look?
How to grow sweet potato in the home garden
Sweet potatoes are grown from slips and not seeds, slips are shoots that are grown from mature sweet potatoes, or to put it another way slips are small pieces of the tuber that are removed or sliced from the sweet potato plant.
1. Sweet potato is a warm-season plant that can be planted from spring through summer. Wait until after the last frost when the soil has warmed up.
2. Look for an area that gets 5-6 hours of sunlight.
3. The soil should be loamy, sandy soil. Adding organic matter can improve the soil structure. The soil ph should be slightly acid anywhere from 5.0-6.5 some people prefer to use neutral soils.
4. 6-7 weeks before planting sweet potato slips, place the potato slips in a container or box of moist sawdust or sand. Place your sweet potato in a warm area that has temperatures of 75-85 degrees.
5. When transplanting into the ground or garden area don’t plant too deeply ensuring that the entire roots are totally covered with the soil. Plant slips in rows of 12-18 inches apart.
6. Keep the soil well-watered but not soaked or waterlogged because this will encourage fungal disease.
7. Fertilize your sweet potato slips with 5-10-10.
Container grown sweet potato
Don’t have the space container grown sweet potatoes can provide you with these superfoods you can enjoy each season.
1. Choose a container that is large enough to grow your plants, containers ranging from 7- gallon or larger. Ensure that containers have holes for excess water to escape or drain.
2. The soil should be loamy, sandy soil. Adding organic matter can improve the soil structure.
3. Sweet potatoes love warm conditions, place your pots in an area that gets 5-6 hours of sunlight.
4. Select a variety that is ideal for growing in containers.
5. When planting slips don’t plant too deeply, ensure that the roots are fully covered.
6. Sweet potatoes love moisture so ensure to water adequately. But don’t overwater because this will cause root rot.
Insect pest of sweet potatoes
Insect pest poses a problem to our sweet potato plant, the good news, however, is we can keep them under control by following these methods. Here is some insect pest to watch out for so you can reap a good harvest.
- White Grubs
- Flea beetles
Word of caution: When using chemicals follow the direction on the label because the label is the law.
1. Mites are tiny insects that are hard to spot, place a piece of white paper under your plants’ leaf, and gently shake the leaves. If the pest issue is spider mites you will see tiny specks moving around on the white sheet of paper also spider web will be attached to plant leaves which is another indication that mites are present.
Other signs include weakening of plants, stunted growth with colored specks on plant leaves. The use of neem oil, insecticidal soaps, or purchasing predatory mites will help with this issue.
2. Aphids are soft-bodied insects that are pared shape which causes injury by sucking the plant’s juice. Leaves will yellow and then turn brown, a strong spray of water will knock them off killing them.
Another solution is the use of insecticidal soap, horticultural and neem oil or a homemade mixture of soapy water in a 32oz spray bottle will help.
3. Wireworm lives in the soil and feeds on the roots of the sweet potato, damaged roots are unable to take up water and fertilizer causing the plant to stress. Yellowing and browning of leaves are also an indication that plants are being stressed.
To control wireworm drench soil with pyrethrin, applying beneficial nematodes, crop rotation, or treating with sns 203 will give good results.
4. White Grubs are insect pest that lives in the soil, white grubs feed on the roots of plants making it impossible for plants to take up water and nutrients. These insect pests are active in the spring and early summer.
White Grubs are white to brownish in color and can be found curl in a form that resembles the letter c. This insect can be controlled with the use of beneficial nematodes which is a safe and effective approach.
5. Flea beetles are responsible for blight and wilt. These beetles are black and have the ability to jump like fleas when bother. The flea beetles also have large rare legs and their bodies are small and shiny. This insect pest eats parts of plant leaves spreading bacterial diseases.
Control flea beetles by using white sticky traps, 70% neem oil, or diatomaceous earth have proven to give good results.
Diseases of sweet potatoes
- Fungal leaf spot
- Stem rot
- Sweet potato scurf
- White blister
Keep an eye out for these diseases and try these methods for control.
1. Stem rot causes the older leaves to wilt and then drop, the younger leaves, at the tip of the vines turn yellow. The inner stem at or below the soil line has brown streaks and is discolored. Planting resistant varieties have proven to give good results.
2. Sweet potato scurf is brought on by damp, wet conditions along with poorly drained soil. This disease appears as blotches on the outside of the roots that are light brown with irregular patches.
To avoid sweet potato scurf cut potato slips just above the soil line and treat seed potatoes with a fungicide before planting.
3. White blister is a disease that appears as a white crusty growth along the leaf veins that looks like grains of salt. This disease is brought on by poor cultural practices which involve overwatering where poor air circulation is an issue also high humidity during cloudy, cool conditions.
Control measures include providing proper air circulation by thinning out plants, sweet potato slips should only be watered when the top 2-3 inches of soil is dry to the touch.
If growing in containers ensure that saucers are not holding water also move the container to an area that gets plenty of air circulation.
4. Fungal leaf spot appears as black or brown water-soaked spots on the leaves in some cases with a yellow halo. Under wet conditions, those spots will become larger.
As spots numbers increase entire leaves may wither and drop. To control this disease plant resistant varieties, applying copper-based fungicides or sulfur sprays at early detection will benefit your plant in a great way.
Harvesting sweet potatoes
Congratulations you have put in the effort now it is time to reap a harvest of your labor. This is the exciting part, But what are the signs to look for when sweet potatoes are ready to harvest? I am glad that you asked.
Sweet potatoes are ready to harvest when the ends of the vines and the leaves start to turn yellow which can take anywhere from 3-4 months. Loosen the soil around your sweet potato plant with a spading fork when attempting to take them out of the ground.
Be very careful not to injure or bruise potatoes, Once potatoes are exposed, with your hands gently remove them from the soil.
Health benefits of sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are not only delicious but the healthy side of this superfood is amazing. Here are some health benefits that will keep your body in the best shape ever.
1. Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber which is great because fiber will help make your bathroom visits easier.
2. Sweet potatoes are loaded with antioxidants which help to fight against free radicals that impact our health in a negative way.
3. Sweet potatoes make a great choice for persons with diabetes because this superfood helps to regulate and reduce blood sugar levels.
4. Sweet potatoes are great for weight control.
5. Because of the nutrient and antioxidants content, sweet potatoes help to promote brain health.
6. Sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamin A which promotes vision health.
7. A study has shown that sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin B6 which promotes heart health.
The final word
There you have it planting, growing, and harvesting sweet potatoes. This super veggie as we discussed is loaded with vitamins and has so many benefits so consider planting some of them in your home garden and take full advantage of this super veggie.
I love sweet potatoes and have eaten them for years. Growing and caring for sweet potatoes have never been easier, give it a try, you will be happy that you did. Sweet potatoes another superfood that works wonders.