Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sweet Potato Propagation...It's Easy!

From Daniel-
Sweet Potatoes are an amazing food source. They are incredibly nutritious, the plant itself is resilient in extreme conditions (last year they were one of the few plants that survived the mid-summer 100+ temperatures here), and last, as I want to describe below, they are easy to grow.

Next time you get sweet potatoes (organic preferred) at the store to use in the kitchen cut off the tops (2-3 inches) and place them cut down in a jar or pan of water. Because I put mine in a pan I stuck pieces of toothpicks in the cut in order to keep them off the pan (for air and water circulation) like little tripods. Soon little shoots began to appear. I placed them in a pretty sunny spot and had to change the water every once in a while in order to prevent rot and smell. The longest wait in the process was to see the first glimmer of shoots (2 weeks). After that it all happens pretty fast.
Soon the shoots were really growing. Once they reach 3-4" they are ready pick.
Simply pick the shoots off by hand. I wasn't terribly careful either although I tried to get the whole shoot out of the sweet potato.Place these shoots in a jar with water and viola! In days the shoots will root and each will be a plant-able sweet potato vine that will bear several good taters.

Here are the roots growing on the end of the shoots.

Most gardening books will tell you to plant these shoots 2 weeks after last frost. They generally take 100-140 days to mature (a bit slow). If they continue to grow into the Fall frost mulching is necessary. But if you have a successful harvest they can store in a cool humid environment for up to 6 months. This method is not mine. I found it in THE VEGETABLE GARDENER'S BIBLE by Edward Smith.

We are starting ours late, but we also have a late frost. It's worth experimenting with. Nature is ever so prolific.


William Kruidenier said...

Great pictures and instructions. I'm curious -- does Smith say this method is preferred over just planting the original "hunk" of sweet potato in the ground like you do regular potatoes, waiting for it to sprout, etc? I know I've had sweet potato vines come up "accidentally" from burying veggie scraps in my flower beds. I'll assume that was a happy accident instead of the most dependable way to get new sweet potatoes. But, did you read anything about just burying sweet potato pieces and waiting for them to sprout?

jendanellenarianna said...

Reply to William:
Smith doesn't address this. My hunch is that by making slips you can create many more individual well placed plants. Planting a "hunk" would produce results but why not plant more vines by taking slips?
There is certainly a gap in explanation. Why isn't this true of planting regular potatoes? Given that they are not related at all (potatoes in tomato family and sweet potatoes in morning glory family) it makes sense that they may not plant the same. But, I don't know why.
Right now I am curious whether one can even grow regular potato slips or whether they have to remain attached to a chunk of potato. I also wonder whether there is a "problem" with planting chunks of sweet potatoes or whether it is just more efficient to produce slips.
Given the tradition of the two plants I am going to gamble that the sweet potato method is more efficient in producing plants and if it could be done with regular potatoes it would be. But a short search on internet produced no answers.
Any help anyone?

William Kruidenier said...

Reply to Daniel:
Good thoughts -- you might try an experiment: plant a sweet potato "tip" (your slips seem to be growing out of the tip-end of a s.p.) and start soaking another "tip" (starting the slip-producing process) on the same day -- then measure the difference 30/60/90 days later as to which produced the bigger vine or did it faster, etc. I find it fascinating that the regular spuds and s.p.'s are from two different families. I wonder if part of the difference is the "eyes" on russet potatoes which I don't recall s.p.'s having. Theoretically, every "eye" on a russet will sprout when buried in dirt (just as they do when left too long on the counter) -- but maybe the s.p.'s only sprout out of the tip (?). It's worth noting for others who want to duplicate your efforts that conventional russet potatoes are sprayed with a chemical that inhibits sprouting and germination, so only organic russets should be used. Don't know if the same is true of s.p.'s but I wouldn't be surprised.