Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes
At Thanksgiving you may call the creamy orange potatoes topped with marshmallows “yams” but they are actually sweet potatoes. Yams are a totally different vegetable that are actually roots, while sweet potatoes are stems. Sweet potatoes can have yellow, red, white orange or even purple flesh.
Sweet potatoes are easy to grow, all you need is 4 months of warm temperatures for them to develop. This means if you live in USDA zones 9-11 or if you have a dome or greenhouse you can grow them indoors.
Where to Get Sweet Potatoes
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. Buy an organic sweet potato at the store, (conventional sweet potatoes are sprayed with chemicals that slow sprouting) and put the potato in a jar of water.
After a while the potato will produce vines. Once the vines are 4-5 inches long, gently pinch them off the potato and place them in another jar of water. Once the vines grow roots, you have your “slips.” In late April to mid-May, plant slips into your garden with the roots just below the surface of the soil in rows 3 feet apart. Keep the soil moist until plants are established. (You can also keep your vines growing indoors and use them as a houseplant if you are so inclined.)
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 revealed the truth!
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!