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Tuesday February 2, 2010
Post Title: How to grow sweet potatoe  

Sweet potatoe is a wonderfully productive vegetable and is ideal as a permanent feature of any organic vegetable garden. You can eat the great tasting and healthy tubers as well as the leaves. Sweet potatoe is an edible, low management ground cover for your soil in the warm months. Our planting blog this week teaches you how to grow your own sweet potatoes. You can also find a lot of additional information on sweet potatoe in our web site paid member area

Step 1. Prepare your soil

Sweet potatoe tubers will grow in a variety of well drained soils, making them a relatively easy crop to grow for most gardens. For greater tuber potential, its best that the top layer of your soil is soft. They will grow well in soil with a clay base and generally will not produce many tubers in hard packed soil, however you may be very surprised at your tubers appearing in the most unlikely places at times. If you are fortunate enough to have a deep layer of top soil, tubers have been known to grow down to 7-8 feet (2 meters) deep. The ideal ph range of 6.0-7.0.

To prepare the bed, loosen the soil to 6-8 inches (15-18cm) depth and break up any large clods in the soil. In planning your soil area for sweet potatoe, allow a reasonable amount of space between plants and then concentrate your organic matter in the soil right where you intend to put each sweet potatoe runner. The plants will run along the ground and take over all of your garden if you don't control them whilst growing, so be diligent about where you want them to grow.

I know some gardeners who use them as ground covers on banks in the home garden. Its best to avoid planting them near fruit trees, as you will disturb the surface fruits of the fruit trees when digging up the tubers. Sweet potatoe, unlike most other vegetables, don't respond very well to high levels of nitrogen in the soil. If your soil is overly fertile, say after a green manure crop, then you will get luxuriant vines and not many tubers. So plant them at the end of your crop cycle.

Step 2. Choose your plants

In tropical climates sweet potatoe can be grown as a perennial whilst in more temperate climates it is an annual. A healthy sweet potatoe will crop at the end of the warmest part of the year and take around 4-5 months to produce reasonable size tubers. Of the most common varieties, each plant will produce approximately 4-6 tubers, so on that basis allow about 4-6 plants per adult in your household. Allow about a third metre (12 inches) diameter circle around each plant as they take up quite a bit space. You can also consume the young leaves of the plant as it grows and sends out new runners. These can be eaten as a green vegetable and are very commonly eaten in Asia.

There are many varieties of sweet potatoe to choose from and its important you choose varieties suitable for your taste preference and use. Varieties are listed on our plant database in our web site paid member area.

Step 3. Follow correct planting methods

Sweet potatoe is a warm season crop and does not need full sun to grow. It will often fill spaces in your garden which are too shady for other plants. Of course, you need to be confident that if you choose a position which is not full sun, that the soil is warm enough for plant growth. Its essential that planting occurs after frost and that your tubers are already grown before the frost onset. It will take from 4-5 months for them to grow, so if you have a very short warm season, they are not suitable for your climate. Paid members of our web site can use our localised planting calendar to find out ideal planting months for growing sweet potatoe for any location in Australia, USA and New Zealand. Whilst the tubers are growing you can pick the young leaves of the plants as vegetable greens.

Normally sweet potatoes are planted out into the garden from a runner. These grow prolifically and you can enhance tuber potential by planting a runner with lots of shoots on it and planting it under the ground standing up vertically. Each of the shoots has the potential to turn into a tuber, so assess the depth of your loose soil and use a runner length no longer than the depth of your soft soil.

When the plant runners start to spread out from where you have planted, the runners will attempt to root down in the soil. To enhance the potential of the orignial planting to produce tubers, do not allow these new runners to root. You can pull them up each month to stop them from rooting or cut them off. If you cut them off you lessen the potential for the plant to be used as ground cover. Make sure you mark the spot where you started the plant so you do not disturb that spot.

Step 4. Use these growing guidelines

Although sweet potatoe can be grown as a perennial in warm climates, the best cropping in both warm and temperate climates can be achieved if you do not keep growing in the same bed each season as this will deplete the soil and increase the potential for soil borne diseases. Itís good to have sweet potatoe after fruting crops and there are many companions and beneficial flowers for sweet potatoe to assist with pest and disease resistance, as well as enhancing fertility. If you are a paid member of our web site, you can access for sweet potatoe.

Sweet potatoes donít need much water to spread foliage, but to enhance tuber potential you should ensure they get medium water levels each week. Since they do not require overly rich soil, you really donít need to bother with liquid fertiliser if you have reasonable soil

Step 5. Control for pests and diseases

Maintaining a healthy soil is always the best protection against pests and diseases, so this is rule number one. Our web site paid member area has extensive instructional content on organic and biodynamic soil fertility practices for your vegetable and herb garden.

Sweet potatoe may be bothered by a wide range of common pests including aphids, cut worm, flea beetles and mites. Instructions on managing these pests on eggplant are in our web site paid member area.

Common diseases for sweet potatoe are root rot, bacterial wilt and fusarium wilt. Crop rotation is a vital part of your gardening strategy to reduce these types of diseases. Extensive information on organic treatment of sweet potatoe diseases is provided in our web site paid member area as well as rotation, companion planting and beneficial flower information.

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Peter Kearney, Cityfood Growers

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