Sweet potatoes have become a rising star
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Article content In the past, we enjoyed them as a vegetable for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Now, they are a year round favourite, and many restaurants and fast food outlets are offering sweet potato as a regular menu item.
In Ontario’s large vegetable industry, sweet potatoes are the rising star as folks are looking for healthier food alternatives. That province’s long, very hot growing season is ideal for sweet potato production, just as it is for watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew mens hermes belt replica
Closely related to morning glories, edible sweet potatoes are actually the thickened root of the tropical, fast growing ipomoea vine. There are many different varieties and colours of sweet potatoes, and each one has its own unique characteristics. As a rule, all of them are high in fibre and vitamins, and many have antioxidant, anti inflammatory and anti diabetic properties.
Article content On the west coast, for years now, we have enjoyed sweet potato vines as ornamental accents in our hanging baskets and containers. They outperform almost any other vine in hot weather. In fall, when we pull out these vines to replace them with cool season colour, we often find assorted sizes of sweet potatoes among the roots. Once properly cured, they are edible, but are somewhat bitter tasting and lack the flavour of regular edible varieties. One of the original ornamental ipomoeas, the hot lime coloured Marguerite, is a prolific producer of bright pink sweet potatoes.
Tahiti sweet potatoes have a unique rosy colour. Photo by John Wozniak /PNG About 15 years ago, I was contacted by Ken Allen who lives in Ontario. One of his top varieties was Georgia Jet, and he thought folks on the west coast should give them a try. Of all the varieties we’ve tried, it has been one of the most productive and reliable.
Sweet potatoes are usually purchased as rooted or unrooted vine cuttings or slips from a few local growers or from online sources. Once a cutting is rooted in a pot, it’s simple to start more and to keep the plant growing as a source for even more plants. The cuttings root easily, often in a week or less, just by placing them in four inch pots of quality potting soil, watering them in and covering them with lightweight, clear plastic.
Article content Edible sweet potatoes need a long, hot season for the best results. Once rooted, keep them in a warm spot where they will grow quickly. It’s important to harden them off outside in a protected area before planting them in the garden once nighttime temperatures in June are consistently above 10C. They need daytime temperatures of at least 70F (21C) to really begin their growth cycle, and they will tolerate temperatures of 104F (40C) or higher. For extra warmth and better production, use raised beds and cover the soil of the growing area with clear or black plastic to really heat up those growing roots.
The vines of Manihi sweet potatoes have dramatic foliage. Photo by Concept Plants BV /PNG A June start should result in a late September or early October harvest. Sweet potatoes require only minimal care: quality, well draining soil, adequate watering and moderate fertilization. To feed, I would use a 10 15 19 formulation with micronutrients.
When harvesting, a fork is the preferred tool, and you need to be careful not to spear the tubers. Handle them as gently as eggs to avoid any bruising that could cause rot. Once harvested, the tubers need to be cured for about a week at temperatures between 85 90F (30 33C). By doing so, the sweet potatoes will form a second skin, which will hold in moisture and help the tubers last longer at room temperatures. This process will significantly improve the flavour and sweetness of the tubers. Don’t put sweet potatoes in the fridge or cold storage.