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News Story
Updated: 06/26/2014 08:00:04AM

Grow your own sweet potatoes

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DRAWING BY KAREN SMOKE

The sweet potato — Ipomoea batatas — has been a staple of Florida gardeners since pioneer days. Arcadia’s original name — Tater Hill Bluff — more than likely referred to sweet potatoes, as white or Irish potatoes would have been a difficult crop to grow in our soil.

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ARCADIAN PHOTO BY AL SMOKE

Growing sweet potatoes over the summer is a good way to hold down weeds in the vegetable garden. Use a mulch of several layers of newspaper when setting out plants. Sweet potatoes thrive in sandy well drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. They do not require large amounts of fertilizer.

ARCADIAN PHOTO BY AL SMOKE

Tuber production begins in fall as day length decreases. Harvest potatoes when they are about 2-inches in diameter. After harvesting, cure potatoes in a warm humid area to increase sugars and harden the skin. Cured sweet potatoes will keep best at temperatures of 50 to 60-degrees and high humidity.

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The rainy season seems to have gotten an early start this summer. Now is an excellent time to plant sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a tender warm season crop and require 120 to 180 days to mature. Plant now and you can expect to harvest taters for Thanksgiving. Growing sweet potatoes over the summer is a good way to hold down weeds in the vegetable garden. Once planted they require little care until harvest.

Sweet potatoes are started from stem cuttings called “slips.” You can grow your own from a store-bought potato. Look for ones showing signs of tiny sprouts; some sweet potatoes are treated to prevent sprouting. You can set the potato in a glass of water, or bury it horizontally in the garden bed with the sprouting end just below the surface. In warm weather the shoots will be ready in two to three weeks.

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