|The largest sweet potato from Saturday's harvest|
I used to eat sweet potatoes if I had to, but they were not something that I would choose to put on my plate. However, I started growing them because Mma loves them and they were another source of starch for the family.
Then I had my first home-grown sweet potato and I enjoyed it so much I expanded the crop to a bigger patch the next season.
And the wonderful thing about my sweet potatoes is that I haven't had to do anything but keep the patch watered and weed-free, not even to replant, since first crop.
Growing sweet potatoes
Site selection: Sweet potatoes like warm sunny areas, and while they do very well in well-composted soil, they can also grow in poor soil well enough.
Soil preparation: I planted my sweet potatoes outside the main vegetable garden. The soil initially had a good dose of cow manure and compost put in, but we let that seep in for months, as sweet potatoes don't do well in soil that has too much nitrogen.
The planting process: You can buy your slips, the green plantings coming out of sprouting sweet potatoes, from your local nursery. I got my slips from my sister-in-law, who had a couple of sweet potatoes from a retail chain start sprouting.
We were very surprised, as we'd read that sweet potatoes provided by retailers were waxed to prevent sprouting.
Anyhoo, we cut off the numerous slips when they were around 6 to 9 inches long and then cut and threw away the bottom inch from each slip, as that portion sometimes harbors disease organisms. We then planted the slips by burying them with soil coming up to the leaves.
Caring for the plants: From there is was only a matter of keeping the slips well-watered and weed-free and occassionally lifting the growing vines to keep them from rooting at the joints, as that allows them to put their energy into forming many undersized tubers at each rooted area rather than ripening the main crop at the base of the plant.
Beyond that, it is recommended that you handle the plants as little as possible to prevent wounds in the plant that might be invaded by disease spores.
Also make sure that you don't over-water the plants, as the plants may rot. If the weather is a bit dry, no worries! Sweet potatoes can withstand dry spells in the weather.
Harvesting: You can start harvesting your sweet potatoes when the leaves start getting yellow. Let the soil dry out for around two weeks before you start harvesting, as you want to be able to dig them out without mud getting into them and spoiling them.
Unless you're planning to let a new batch of sweet potatoes grow in that patch, make sure that you dig out all the tubers, even the thin roots deep in the soil.
I found washing the harvest to be very hard work, LOL, but once that was done, I left the tubers to dry in the sun for a couple of days before I put them away in a dry well-ventilated place in my pantry.
I wish I had a proper storage area for crops like potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkins.This weekend I realised while I was cleaning the sweet potatoes how ill-equipped I am to deal with the harvests that my garden is generating. I'll just have to make do for now, though.
Serving suggestions: Sweet potatoes taste great eaten raw, especially when newly picked from the garden.
I also like to boil them and leave them on the table for everyone to grab as a snack, cut them up and stuff a roast chicken with them or even put them with a mix of carrots, onions, robot peppers and a dash of herbs in my lazy roasts.
That's when I just rub a chicken with a garlic/ginger/herbs mix, put it in a roast dish with a bunch of fresh vegetables, sprinkle some black pepper on them, cover the dish with foil and put it in the oven to slow roast for a long time while I attend to other things.
My favourite recipe though is the baked sweet potato. I wash and cut full potatoes up into thick slices, sprinkle them with a dash of salt and peri-peri and a spoonful of olive oil, then put them in an oven to bake at 180 degrees Celsius (around 350 degrees Fahrenheit, I think) for around 20 minutes or until they are soft but not mushy. Sometimes I then turn the oven to grill for 5 minutes or so, just to crisp them a little bit.