How I grow sweet potatoes

How I grow sweet potatoes

Here’s what I do: Buy a sweet potato at the grocery store, dig a shallow hole somewhere in the yard, and bury the tuber. Then I forget about it. I don’t even remember exactly where I buried it. It doesn’t matter. In the spring it will send up a bunch of little vines and I’ll say, Oh yeah, I buried a sweet potato there.

The other day I bought the sweet potato in the photo above and buried it at the edge of the canopy of my orange tree. I also buried a purple sweet potato near there that I had grown last year so I can grow more next year.

cass and sweet potato

Cass enjoys digging up purple sweet potatoes while wearing my gloves.

What I’ll do next spring is use the little vines that the sweet potatoes shoot up in order to grow my sweet potato plants through the┬ásummer. I’ll write a post about how exactly I do that when the time comes, likely in early June (planted mine on June 13 this year), but it’s ridiculously easy. Essentially, you clip off a section of vine about as long as your forearm and stick it in the ground. Come fall — voila! — you’ll be digging up sweet potatoes that look like the one you buried last fall (now). Of course, you have to give them water through the summer.

So if you want to grow some sweet potatoes next summer, pick up a tuber next time you’re at the grocery store and bury it.

Growing sweet potato vines under avocado trees

Growing sweet potato vines under avocado trees

Last fall, when I harvested sweet potatoes, I stuck a slip in the ground under the drip line of the Hass avocado tree. I wanted to see if the vine would take and survive the winter. It did, and it grew vigorously all summer until yesterday I tore out the foliage and dug up the roots to see if it had produced tubers worth eating.

Indeed, the thing had made 10 sweet potatoes, four of which were nearly as fat as my forearm. We ate some last night, along with sauteed sweet potato greens and pork chops. But here are some of the rest:

WP_20151007_14_22_43_Pro

What is exciting about these results is that it feels like I got the sweet potatoes for free. It feels like they grew wildly. After planting the slip, I never gave them another moment of attention. I didn’t water or weed them. I watered the avocado tree and the sweet potato vine got its water incidentally.

This was an efficient use of space too. The vine crept along the ground at the outer edge of the tree’s canopy, but it wasn’t an obstacle to walking around the tree. Last summer I grew squash vines at the edges of a number of tree canopies, and though they produced well, they were bulkier and more of a tripping hazard.

The single negative was that while digging up the sweet potatoes, I inevitably damaged some avocado roots. But the tree didn’t seem to skip a beat. Maybe it’s because the harvest was done in October, which is the time of year when avocado roots are growing (and therefore, regrowing) the most.

So I’ve planted slips at the edges of a couple other avocado trees for next year. Who knew that avocados and sweet potatoes could be such good friends?