Sweet potatoes are near sure-fire successes in the summer garden. They're a southern staple. After the kale and collards have long bolted and gone to seed, they keep providing the table with greens. Their roots store excellently too, providing nourishment year round.
This Spring, we planted several rows and a couple beds of sweet potatoes on Little St. Simons Island. All of the “seed” came from the potatoes we grew TWO YEARS AGO in the backfield. An attempt was made to grow watermelons in that field last year, but the sweet potatoes left in the ground from the summer before took hold and won out. When I first arrived in the garden this winter, the first task at hand was to pull all those potatoes out of the ground. And can you believe after carting several crates of them out of the garden last winter, still this spring dozens and dozens of seedlings, called “slips” in the world of tater-growin,’ came peaking up out of the rye cover in that back field!
On a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia a couple summers ago, I came to know their virtues well. They were my “power bars” throughout the day. We baked dozens of the last year’s crop at a time, put them in the fridge to easily grab and get reenergized. At dinner, we stir-fried their bountiful leaves with onions and garlic for a tasty side dish.
| These are the sweet potato slips my husband grew for our home garden. |
If you're going to grow your own slips, just cut the spuds in half and
put them in a tray of water and they'll start spouting.
All this to demonstrate what a hardy vegetable the sweet potato is and how easy it is to grow. A city-dwelling friend of mine grew them in her kitchen windowsill solely for their greens. If you’re growing for their spuds, sweet potatoes like well-drained, loose soil and sunshine. You can mound them up in a raised row to give their roots plenty of room to swell. You can also plant them in raised beds. We did both late last Spring. I plucked those slips out of the backfield as they were coming up, put them in trays for later-transplanting, and now, they’re sprawling beyond their beds and rows... clipped every week to supply Charles with a substitute for one of his lunch staples, navy bean and kale soup. Come fall, we’ll dig them out of the ground, to be cured and ready for the baking come Thanksgiving.