How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in a Container
Although I have a small garden, I just love to grow vegetables. They're so much tastier when home-grown with organic nutrients, but I didn't ever dream that it would be possible to grow sweet potatoes in this climate, way down south in Victoria, Australia, as I'd only ever seen them growing in the tropics.
Then I found saw a couple of unusual seedlings in my local hardware and garden store. They were labelled 'Sweet Potato.' That was a surprise; I just had to have one. I brought it home and planted it in a medium-sized container. I wasn't sure that it would grow, but it was worth a try.
How to Propagate Sweet Potatoes
The best and easiest way to grow more plants is to take cuttings of the vine.
- Look along the main stem until you find a joint that has begun to send up a small sprout, preferably the furthest from the main part of the plant.
- Cut on either side of the joint, leaving some of the stem either side. (See photos above and below.)
Place the piece with the stem on top of the container of prepared soil (I added cow manure. Cows have two stomachs so digest seeds better; horse manure is good, but a lot of seeds of unwanted plants and weeds remain and will germinate in the container).
- Anchor the stem at each end (old-fashioned hair-pins are good) and then cover them lightly with soil.
- At first the leaves and shoot may wilt a little, but as long as it is watered well, it will soon stand straight and the shoot will begin to grow surprisingly quickly.
Another Way: Feel for the small knobs on the surface of the vegetable. These will also sprout if the potato is planted in moist soil.
The Sweet Potato Is a Creeper
Where there is space, the vine grows across the ground and can send shoots up and roots down into the soil, but where I live now space is limited, so my seedling needed to be trained to grow upwards.
I just attached some wire trellising to a wall, gave it a stake to help it begin its climb.It seems to adapt quite well to this and in a few days when it had settled, it was off!
Hints on Growing Sweet Potatoes
On occasion, some of the sweet potatoes seem to come to the top of the soil. As with other potatoes, it is said that they should not be eaten if they have turned green. Just in case, it's best to cover them with some extra soil to keep them away from the sunlight.
If the vines are kept cut back a bit the sweet potatoes grow bigger, as then they do not spend all their energy producing more leaves.
How to Harvest Sweet Potato
It's fun watching the vine grow, as it seems to do it quite quickly. At the same time the vegetables are growing underneath.
When it is time to harvest, if you do it carefully, the main part of the plant can remain in the planter and continue to produce. The photograph below is the produce from one plant, and as the container was not very large I did not wait for the sweet potatoes to grow to their full size. This meant that they were lovely and tender and cooked quite quickly.
If you are intending to eat the skin as well, make sure the potatoes are well-scrubbed. The skin is quite pleasant to eat.
Storing Sweet Potatoes
- If your harvest lasts long enough to store, make sure that the pieces are dried well.
- They need to be kept in the dark; a good way is to put them in a brown paper bag with some holes made in it so they can 'breathe.'
- Then store the bag in a dark but airy cupboard.
- Never store them in the refrigerator!
Sweet potatoes do not usually keep as long as ordinary potatoes, so it is a good idea to check fairly frequently that there are no soft spots appearing on them. Of course, if you're like me, they won't last long enough to go off.
Advantages of Growing Your Own Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potato is one of the world's healthiest foods and that's really good news considering that it also tastes good. Of course it's best and healthiest when grown organically.
- It's low in sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol
- It's a good source of dietary fibre - helps to keep us regular, to regulate digestion and our blood sugar
- Vitamins A - helps to improve eyesight, boost immunity and it's claimed that it also help in treating or preventing cancer; the orange ones are good, but I'm told that the purple are even better; the anthocyanin also protects our skin against sun damage
- Vitamin B6 - breaks down homocysteine which hardens our blood vessels and arteries
- Vitamins C and E - boost collagen growth and is good for maintaining a healthy skin
- It contains Potassium, which lowers blood pressure and is an electrolyte that regulates the heart beat
- Manganese, which boosts blood, muscle, nerve and bone health
- Iron, which is especially useful for those who do not eat red meat
The Skin: We can eat the skin as that also contains many of the above benefits, including beta-carotene, which the body changes to Vitamin A (see above)
The Leaves: These can be eaten raw in a salad, or cooked like spinach
Unlike some other starchy vegetables, sweet potatoes release their sugar slowly into the bloodstream, providing a constant flow of energy - so much better than relying on coffee, sugary drinks and other stimulants that only give a sudden, but brief boost.