I’m always looking to find new things to try to grow in the vegetable garden. One year it was peanuts, another year it was lima beans and this year it’s sweet potatoes. In March, I went online to research varieties that would do well in my northern location (right on the 6a / 5b line) and was instantly drawn in by one supplier’s description:
“Well-suited for growing in the Northeast! Harvest a heavy crop of large sweet tubers in just 100 days! Tasty and nutritious!” Well, that’s all I needed to know, I was all in. I ordered 12 bare root plants (often called “slips”) of Georgia Jet and picked a shipping date of mid-May. When the box arrived in the mail, I opened them up immediately and was disappointed to see their condition. The roots were originally wrapped in wet newspaper but the paper had dried out on their journey and the plants were so wilted that I really thought they wouldn’t make it. The paperwork that accompanied the slips gave all reassurances that despite their appearance, “sweet potatoes are very tough and if planted properly and if favorable weather exists, your plants will yield an abundant supply of delicious potatoes.” Too many “ifs” for me. I found myself actually wishing for a hot and humid summer. The slips did, however, revive after spending some time in a flower vase filled with water. When I saw new roots emerging after several days, I knew it was time to get them into the ground.
I started out by building a raised mound of soil that was a foot high and 2 feet wide. I knew that this would accomplish 2 things. First, the soil would warm up more quickly and second, loosening the soil would make it easier for the tubers to fill out. As I turned the soil, I mixed in Fish Bone Meal which is high in the phosphorous that root crops need to develop strong-growing tubers.
5/13 planting day.
I decided to cover the raised soil mound with black weed fabric to cut down on weeding and also to warm up the soil faster. Some gardeners use black plastic but the weed fabric allows water through it so I would have to water less. After anchoring down the fabric with galvanized pins, I used a box cutter to make X’s in the fabric every 15″.
6/4, need hot weather!
Finally, I amended each planting hole with Quoddy Lobster Compost, planted the slips and watered them in well. They were very slow to start off and limped along for the first 3-4 weeks because of the cool soil temperature. If I decide to grow them again next year, I’ll warm the soil 2 weeks prior to planting and wait until the end of May. Hopefully they will be ready to harvest by September. Hmmm, sweet potato fries dipped in blue cheese dressing. Stay tuned!
7/5, finally taking off!
By: Sue Lavallee