East Texas Ag News: Sweet potatoes take well to hot summer days
LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - A couple of recent questions that I haven’t heard in some time is “how do I grow sweet potatoes in my garden?” and “where do I buy sweet potato slips?”
Sweet potatoes are a nutritionally dense and wonderful summer annual crop that we can grow quite well here in east Texas. Just a bit to the north of us is a great deal of commercial sweet potato production. My first job as an Extension Agent was in Canton, Texas (Van Zandt County) and there were a good many sweet potato growers located there.
Sweet potatoes can do quite well in our climate. Hot days and warm nights are ideal for sweet potato production. They must be planted in a well-drained, fine sandy loam soil with a slightly acidic pH 5 to 7.5. This allows the sweet potato to grow easily but not remain in poorly drained soil that encourages rot and disease.
Depending on the variety, sweet potatoes can be a 90-to-150-day crop. But it is the “slips” that often get folks tripped up. Sweet potato slips are small, rooted pieces of the tuberous root. Slips are produced from the tubers of the previous season’s crop. Most gardeners prefer to plant slips bought from garden centers because they are most likely to be disease resistant.
To produce slips on your own, buy healthy, disease-free sweet potatoes from a local market. Scrub them clean and then lay them out in a pot or a metal tray with drainage and cover them about half way with clean potting soil or seed starting soil. The other method is to cut them in half and suspend each half over a jar of water by inserting toothpicks so that half is submerged in the water. Place the sweet potato somewhere that it will get plenty of warmth and sunlight. Online research indicates that the soil propagated slips grow much faster.
Planted from slips, the tuberous roots will be ready to harvest in 90 to 120 days. For home gardeners, the best time to harvest sweet potatoes is immediately before or just after the first fall frost.
Since you may be starting late in the season, the variety that matures in the shorter range of 90 days is Centennial. What you are most likely to find is the more popular Beauregard variety that is ready in 105 days.
Let’s look closely at the calendar to see if you can plan out a possible crop. First, it will take you six weeks to grow slips. If you started in late June, then you would be ready to plant slips in early August. Planting slips in early August, 105 days later would put you right in the middle of November, which is our average first frost for Angelina County.
Is this possible? Maybe. I’d prefer that you order slips and get a 6 week jump on the having a better chance at a crop this year. Planting slips now bumps up your potential harvest time to October which give you a much better window for production.
At harvest, be sure to dig deep and carefully. The skins of the sweet potato are easily bruised. Even dropping the potatoes into a harvest bucket will injure the skin.
Sweet potatoes can be prepared just like other potatoes: baked, French fried, grilled, or served with marshmallows on top! But order your slips quickly if you want a chance at a harvest this year.
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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