Did you know sweet potatoes can be grown in the Central Valley of CA? In fact, Merced County (USDA Zone 9) is home to many sweet potato growers and packers. If you live in another area of the world, it’s important to note that sweet potatoes need to grow in a warm climate for at least 4 months.
To start sweet potatoes, you’ll need ”slips,” which are pieces of sweet potato vine that have roots. In some states, you can order slips shipped directly to you at the correct planting time, but this isn’t allowed in California due to Agriculture Safety laws. Luckily, it’s easy to grow your own slips. Buy an organic sweet potato at the store, (regular sweet potatoes are sprayed with chemicals that slow sprouting) and put the potato in a jar of water. The potato will begin to produce vines. Once the vines are 4-5 inches long, gently remove them and place them in a jar of water. When these vines grow roots, they are considered “slips.” Plant slips with the roots just below the surface of the soil in rows 3 feet apart. Plant in late April to mid May. Keep the soil moist until plants are established.
Sweet potatoes will be ready in fall. Once vines begin to die stop watering and then harvest. A 10 foot row produces about 4-8 pounds of potatoes in mid to late fall. Interestingly enough, you can also harvest and cook the sweet potato vines, which when sautéed taste like spinach.
One thing you may not know about sweet potatoes is that they can be eaten raw. Yes, you read it right! I once cut one up and offered it to friends who ate them without comment, assuming they were carrots. Imagine their look of surprise when I told them what they ate! Sweet potatoes are high in potassium, fiber, Vitamin ‘A’ and many other nutrients. And sweet potato fries are easy to make and delicious. Slice up a few, shake them in a container with olive oil and salt and then bake in the oven at 450°F for 20 minutes or until tender. Enjoy!