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MY EXPERIMENT IN GROWING SWEET POTATOES

When I first started gardening here in the sugar sand (inland coastal dunes) of Aransas County, Texas back in 2008, I tried Sweet Potato slips. Even with drip irrigation, the dry sand with limited organic matter produced scrawny plants with small scrawny unusable tubers. Since those early years I have added 13 cubic yards of tilled-in clay to the 54’x30’ garden area plus spreading about 3-6 cubic yards of rich compost every year. I also use organic fertilizers for the living soil and spray the plants with Spray-N-Grow.

This year I ordered Mahon Yams slips from Johnny’s Seeds in Maine and received 26 slips from their North Carolina producer. These are sweet potatoes from the Morning Glory family, not starchy African yams from the Monocot or lily family. Regular potatoes are from the Nightshade family like tomatoes.

I grew up enjoying Grandma Fry’s baked sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving and Christmas after they had been dug up and cured. We ate them with meals and in-between meals. A cold baked sweet potato was almost syrupy sweet when peeled. They were also served mashed and sometimes fried. Sweet potatoes are very nutritious having many minerals and vitamins like Beta-carotene and Vitamin A. My dad grew sweet potatoes in NE Arkansas. My wife only wants to buy the Garnet sweet potato like Dad grew.

Mahon Sweet Yams have been developed from Beauregard Sweet Potatoes over the past 25 years by selecting the sweetest potatoes with pink or rose-colored skin, deep orange flesh, and creamy non-stringy texture. Beauregard was developed by the Louisiana Agriculture Extension Service in 1981. South and North Carolina research farms have both been involved in the Mahon Yam production.

In late May, 26 partially green 9” sticks, with some having wilted leaves, arrived in the mail. I immediately finished preparing the raised-row bed and soaked it with water. Then I used my finger to poke 2-3-inch holes in the ground every 1 foot apart. I put one stick in every hole. Three days later there were leaves growing on every stick. The 7 lobed palmate leaves are very different from the usual heart shaped or slightly lobed leaves of other sweet potatoes. The plants, now six weeks later, are thick with vines and leaves spreading out over 6 feet with some vines growing through the horse fence.

I will check the root growth around September 1st and may not harvest them until mid-October depending on the tuber size. They will need to dry out for a week. Then, the curing time is estimated to be 4-6 weeks. Because this soil dries out so quickly, the drip system is on every day. Is it enough or too much?   I will let you know the outcome of my experiment this fall.

-Herman Green

7/10/2020    Garden Journals