You can grow your very own sweet potatoes at home
Most of my vegetable growing space is taken up with crops we eat a lot of and which produce well, but I do enjoy growing a few ‘exotics’ like sweet potatoes too.
This is a tropical crop but in all but the worst UK summer you can get a very acceptable yield (and certainly something your neighbours probably won’t have!!) Plants are available in garden centres (but at quite a price!) so I prefer to buy them as ‘slips’. Unlike the more widely grown potato, sweet potatoes are grown from what amounts to a cutting, also known as a ‘slip’ . Many mail order seed companies sell them, ready to be sent out around the end of May, and they are really good value. Look out for some of the tastiest orange-fleshed varieties such as ‘Georgia Jet’ or ‘Beauregard’ but don’t be put off by the often rather miserable looking slips when they arrive. Just pot each one into its own 3-4in (8-10cm) pot of moist compost and keep them on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse. Within a week or two they will green up, be forming roots and plenty of new foliage.
How to grow sweet potatoes in the UK
When growing strongly either plant each one singly into a 45cm pot or into a sunny spot in the garden. I like to cover the soil surface with black polythene for a week before planting then just cut an ‘X’ in the polythene, one for each sweet potato , then plant through the ‘X’ into the soil below. I use well-pegged down, opened-out compost bags, inner (black) side uppermost as the plastic is really tough, its free and this saves putting it into landfill! Cover the plants with fleece until the weather has warmed up reliably and there is absolutely no risk of frost. Sweet potatoes produce a dense ground cover of heart-shaped leaves, dotted with tiny morning glory-like flowers so they look rather lovely too.
When to harvest your sweet potatoes
Harvesting can usually start in late September, but if the foliage is still bright green and the weather warm, you’re likely to get bigger tubers if you delay a little.