There are 7,593 varieties of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). Despite its name, sweet potato is not a potato at all; it is related to morning glory.
Worldwide it is the 6th most important food crop after, rice, wheat, potatoes, corn, and cassava.
It is consumed and grown in most countries in the world and is a part of many lovely dishes. It is also high in vitamins and claimed to be one of the foods that could end world hunger.
However, growing sweet potatoes on a large scale was tricky and it was one of the first crops to be genetically altered to create virus free and disease free crops. This means it is unlikely to die from a fungus but it has lead to large scale production of sweet potatoes which creates a mono-cultivation which is bad for the ecosystem and contributes to the decline in natural pollinators and native animals.
Over 95% of the sweet potato production in the world comes from developing countries. 80% is produced in China producing 130 million tons per year. There is a high increase in cultivation in African nations also and the Southern USA is also a large producer of sweet potatoes after the decline in tobacco production.
Why is The Netherlands one of the 5 biggest importers of sweet potatoes?
It requires a warm climate with 150 frost free days to grow.
How I grew my sweet potatoes:
In late winter (February) I sourced a small organic sweet potato from the organic store – the one I got was from Honduras.
Place two or three bamboo skewers or toothpicks in the sweet potato so that you can rest the bottom half in a jar of water
Place the jar in the windowsill in a warm spot. In my case the central heating is just below my windowsill making it a perfect warm spot
Be patient… very... very patient!
Several times I thought that the sweet potato wasn’t going to do anything, and I was tempted to throw it out. If the water goes a little green or slime appears on the sweet potato replace the water and rinse the potato.
Note: I had to wait until late April for any sign of sprouting so don’t give up on your sweet potato.
Eventually you will see roots/sprouts appear – these are called slips. One potato can produce 12 slips.
Once the roots or slips are about 5-10 cm (2-4 inches) long you can gently pull them off. Keep the slips wet until you are ready to put them in a pot.
Place the sweet potato back on the windowsill if you’d like, it will continue to create more slips or you can now cook and eat your sweet potato if you’d like.
On a warm day after the last frost has passed (May 15th in The Netherlands), fill a large container (20L) with adequae drainage and some new soil – They love warmth I chose for a black container to absorb the heat.
Make holes in the soil with your hand about the length of the roots of the slips, it is recommended that the roots go straight down.
Water them each day for the first week and then just when they look a little thirsty.
Continue to be very patient they need another 3-4 months of growing time.
Do not prune the vines, let them grow vigorously and support them if required.
Water them. Although they are drought tolerant, you will get better sweet potatoes if you water them on hot days.
The sweet potatoes are currently growing – I will keep you updated until harvest time in early September.