In between making large batches of soap today, I helped dig sweet potatoes in the plot we planted to benefit our local food bank. We’ve given over 3,600 pounds of produce so far this year, and have only the sweet potatoes and fall broccoli left to harvest. I think we got about 200 pounds of sweets, but we’re not done yet. Sweet potatoes are fun and easy to grow and they’re good for you in so many ways.
Growing Sweet Potatoes
Depending on the time of the year, sweet potatoes can be very easy to grow. They don’t do as well during the dead of winter, but in the early spring, get them at your local food co-op, natural food store, or farmer’s markets. Look for firm tubers that have a good set of eyes on one end.
Sweets are different from “Irish” potatoes in that they grow from one end and don’t rely on sets of eyes that can be cut into many pieces. One end will produce the roots and one will produce the plant. It may be difficult to tell at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.
When you get your sweets home, take three toothpicks and place them in the potato about half way up. Space the toothpicks out evenly. Then place the root end in water most of the way up to the toothpicks. A good way to do this is in a rocks glass. They are short and bigger around than most drinking glasses. When you have your potato set up, place it in a window. Within a few weeks you’ll see purple or green sprouts starting on the top and roots starting on the bottom. If you don’t see anything within a month, discard the potato and start with a new one. I get about 6-7 duds a year doing it this way out of about 100.
When the shoots get about 6 inches tall, break them off and place them in some water. They’ll root in a few days to a week. When the roots are good sized, plant them. The vines will grow everywhere, so keep an eye on them. When the vines freeze in the fall, it’s time to harvest them.
Fun Sweet Potato Facts
- Sweet potatoes are not yams and yams are not sweet potatoes. (Read more about the difference between sweet potatoes and yams.)
- They are a member of the morning glory family.
- They come in several colors including yellow, orange, garnet, and white.
- They can get quite large. I’ve seen them weight 3-4 pounds each!
- The shoots, stem, and leaves can be eaten like spinach – steamed or eaten raw.
- They are North Carolina’s state vegetable. The main cash crop in the Piedmont region of North Carolina is the sweet potato.
- They originated in Central America and started being cultivated about 5,000 years ago.
- Many cities in the US have Sweet Potato festivals.
- The average acre produces over 13 tons of sweets.
- They are nutrient dense. Sweet potatoes contain a number of vitamins and minerals in addition to antioxidants.
- They are a great source of beta carotene.
- They can be eaten in a number of ways including baked, fried, dehydrated, raw, and steamed. The can be made into many dishes including the ever popular sweet potato casserole (I like mine with nuts and marshmallows!), sweet potato fries, and even wine.
- They are very low in calories and pound for pound are better for you than “Irish” potatoes.
- They can be used for animal feed.
- They can be used with citrus juice to dye cloth.
- About 95% of commercially produced sweet potatoes are the cultivar “Beauregard.”
Recipe for Baking Sweet Potatoes
It seems like no matter where I have lived, here in North Carolina or Minnesota, sweet potatoes have been very popular. Once relegated to holiday feasts, they are consumed all year long now. I love sweet potato chips and always get sweet potato fries if I have a choice at restaurants. My favorite dish is baked sweet potatoes. They are simple and easy, though they can take a while to cook.
- 4-5 medium sweet potatoes, washed
- brown sugar, to taste (find organic coconut palm sugar here)
- cinnamon, to taste (find organic ground cinnamon here)
- nutmeg, to taste (find organic ground nutmeg here)
- sea salt, to taste (find unrefined sea salt here)
- about 4 tablespoons butter
- baking dish
- oil for baking dish (coconut oil works well)
Set your oven to 350°. Trim the ends off the sweet potatoes and poke several times with a knife. This allows steam to escape during cooking. Cut each one in half and slice through several times, not going all the way to the skin. Smear some butter on top. The amount is up to you. Sprinkle each half with brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Oil your baking dish and place your halves inside, cut side up. Bake for 30 minutes. Baking time will vary with different ovens and each individual sweet potato. Serve hot. You can cover them during baking, but I usually don’t. Smaller potatoes may not need to be poked, but the cut side may seal itself during baking, so I don’t take a chance.
How about you?
What’s your favorite way to enjoy sweet potatoes? Share with us in the comments section!