Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Growing Sweet Potatoes & Yams

I have been trying may hand at growing yams for two seasons now, from slips that I grew on myself.

The first year, I had great success and many slips, while last year I had minimal success and only a very few slips.

I did, however, have semi decent success growing them. Was able to get just enough tubers from each slip to keep me intrigued and want to keep on trying ; )

This year I found a farmer fella who actually grows a couple dozen varieties and sells the slips. Happiness!

As this farmer fella lives on the opposite side of the country, I thought it prudent to trial several varieties to see which ones fare best here on the island.

Pic from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

These are the ones that I ended up choosing this year ...  (The variety information blurbs come from two different sources.) 

Ginseng Red- An early producing heirloom with pinkish brown skin and golden flesh. Bush habit and attractive, deeply serrated, ivy-like leaves.

Heirloom Variety. An unusual variety that offers a “bush” habit, but with attractive deeply serrated ivy-like leaves. An early producing heritage var. with golden yellow flesh and pale pink/tan skin. This one was the prettiest and largest of all varieties trialed.

Beauregard- Selected from the current standard commercial variety. Auburn skin and orange flesh.

The standard variety grown by commercial growers. Vining. Very reliable producers as they offer above average yields. Tubers offer deep auburn (?pink) skin and orange/yellow, slightly dryish flesh. Can’t you already see these mashed, on your plate with a dab of butter? Yum! Mid season producer.  

Superior- A copper-skinned, moist, orange-fleshed type with striking ivy-like foliage. Most appreciated by Great Lakes region growers. 

Georgia Jet- Noted for earliness and yield among the orange fleshed strains.

These are supposed to be very popular in Canada, I am told. A leader in earliness, producing huge yields orange colored flesh tubers. Pink Skin, orange flesh, moist. A bush forming variety. Very prolific & heavy cropper. For the gardener with a 100 day frost free growing season.  

Frazier White- White and very sweet. Bulks up well, especially easy to harvest.

Heirloom Variety. Vining. The only white skinned, sweet white fleshed variety of our collection! Said to “bulk up” well and harvest easy. (…digging for them is like finding candy in a straw pile !)  

Tainung 65- Light pink skin, creamy interior. Large tuber potential. Its purple stems and bronze leaves also make decorative houseplants or hanging baskets.

A variety from Taiwan (I’m told) with pink skin and (creamy) gold flesh. Produces mid-season with good results. Plants offer some eye candy with purple stems and bronze leaves. Vines are much longer than “Georgia Jets“. Excellent taste. Pretty enough for a pot close to the back door! Just make sure it is large enough! Needs lots of moisture! 105 days  Well! This one was my heaviest and largest producer for 2014 and 2016!

Pic from outlawgarden.com

Planting and care till harvest... 

Yams and sweet potatoes need about 100 days of growing in good warm soil, so should be planted in the warmest spot in your garden. Make sure the spot is weed free, with loose and friable soil. Plant when the night time air temps are consistently 10°C.

To attract more heat and suppress weeds, the planting spot can be covered with plastic or landscape fabric with a planting hole cut into it. Plant 1.5 to 2 feet apart.

Alternately, they can be grown in really big pots.

Sweet potatoes are not heavy feeders, but do benefit from a bit of phosphorous and potassium. Dust the planting spot with bonemeal and kelp or seaweed meal. Avoid too much nitrogen or you will end up with spindly tubers.

Sweet potatoes do not get hilled like regular potatoes do. They grow just beneath the soil level and make lovely vines above ground. Do not allow these vines to root into the ground so that all the plant energy goes into producing big tubers instead of fat, juicy ones.

Create a bit of a depression (a bowl to plant into) to hold water. Dig a hole into this depression and pop the slip into the hole, leaving just the top few leaves showing. This depression helps with the watering, holds more water and slowly seeps into the soil to help get a deep soak.

If you are planting on a bright, sunny day, shade the slip for a few days to help acclimate it and prevent sunburn. An easy way is to cover it with a plant pot that has had the bottom cut out of it.

Sweet potatoes are drought tolerant but grow best when watered deeply once or twice a week.

The plant will seem to grow very slowly at first, as it puts it's energy into rooting in, but by mid-summer, the vines will take off with great growth!

Tubers are ready to harvest when the vines have turned black by frost or when the night time temps start to fall below 10°C.

To cure the sweet potatoes for storage, place in a humid, warm spot for a couple of weeks. Ideally, mid 20's Celsius temperature, with a tray of water under the tubers for humidity. Do not wash tubers until cooking time.

The varying shapes of foliage on the assorted varieties. 

I hope you will pick up one or two of my well-rooted slips to grow in your garden and help me with my trial. Your feedback will be invaluable!

Happy Gardening! 

Moving Thyme

Sadly, the Nitty Gritty Potager blog is no more... but the good news is that I can now be found at my new blog called the Olde Thyme F...