How To… Grow sweet potatoes in the UK

Sweet potatoes make a delicious and healthy alternative. However you eat your Sweet potatoes, they make a delicious, and healthy alternative to the ‘normal’ potato and seem to have grown hugely in popularity over the last few years but depending on which supermarket you go to, they can be hard to find here in the UK due to demand and until more recently, they weren’t grown that much over here as they prefer to be grown in warmer climates. However, now because of the new hardier type of sweet potatoes, it means you can now grow sweet potatoes in the UK…whoop for all those sweet potato lovers like myself!! Plus, it’ll save you money and you don’t need a huge allotment patch, or even a big garden to plant them in so anyone can do it!

Growing Sweet Potato Slips…
Unlike the ‘normal’ potatoes, sweet potatoes are actually grown in a completely different way, they are actually started from slips, these are the green shoots coming off the top that you can see in the image below that yo will use to grow your own potatoes. The slips don’t have roots themselves to begin with, the roots will grow once the slip has been planted. It is a little complicated due to the amount of steps to get your potatoes ready for growing but bear-with, it’s so worth doing when you finally get your tasty, homegrown crop!

Step One – Cut a store bought sweet potato in half and stick skewers into the sides of it near the top. This is so you can place the bottom half in a glass of water, leaving enough sticking out of the top to keep dry and to hold your sticks in place.

Step Two – After a few weeks you will get a good amount of the green shoots growing from the top of your old potato. You need to gently remove these slips from the potato one by one and plant them into small pots filled with rich compost. When you are planting the sweet potato slips, it’s important to cover the entire stem of the shoot so that it’s covered right up to the base of the leaves.

Step Three – Sweet potato plants are very delicate in the beginning so you will need to grow them in a warm environment for at least 3 weeks until they are established. Once the 3 weeks has passed, you will need to gradually acclimatise the sweet potatoes to outdoor conditions BEFORE planting them outside properly. To do this, all you need to do is put them outside in a sunny spot on the warmest days and then bring them back inside at night. Keep doing this for around 2 weeks, leaving them outside for longer each time and eventually overnight, but still in their original pots.

Where To Plant…
Once you have finished step 3 (above), your potatoes will be ready to plant outside. They require higher temperatures to grow in so if you are in the UK or somewhere similar, they are best planted in a greenhouse or in polytunnels. The potatoes need to be grown in full sun and in well drained, acid or neutral soil (it should say on your bag of soil if bought from a gardening centre). Plant each sweet potato shoot at least 30cms apart, leaving around 75cm between each row. However, if space is limited, you can grow your sweet potatoes in containers or potato grow bags.

Growing sweet potatoes…
Step One – Make sure you water your sweet potato plants regularly and if you’re growing your crop under covers, remember to open the doors/sides or windows during the day to keep your greenhouse or polytunnel well ventilated.

Step Two – Ensure you feed them with general purpose fertiliser every two to three weeks.

Step Three – Sweet potatoes grow at a rapid rate and like to grow long and sprawling stems so if they are in a greenhouse, it might be worth training the stems to grow along strings or onto a trellis to keep them tidy. However, if you planted them outside you can simply spread the stems out around the plant.

Harvesting sweet potatoes…
In the late summer or approximately 13 to 16 weeks after planting them, you’ll begin to notice the leaves and stems beginning to turn yellow and die back, once this happens, it’s time to start harvesting your sweet potatoes. They can be left in the ground longer if you prefer larger potatoes but it’s best to dig them up once they start going yellow, that’s when they are at their tastiest. Make sure they have all been harvested before the first of the frosts though as this will kill any left in the ground.

Storing your potatoes…
Unlike ‘normal’ potatoes that you can eat straight from harvesting, sweet potatoes need to be laid out in the sun for a few hours immediately after harvesting and then moved to a warm and humid place for at least 10 days. Something like a greenhouse is the best option but you can make your own greenhouse effect on a sunny window sill or somewhere that gets lots of sun. Then, once the skins have been cured in the sun they can be stored in a cooler place provided they are kept dry.

I hope you enjoyed this post!


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