I have been watching my sweet potato plants like a hawk for the last month to see when they will be ready and to make sure they were dug up before any hard frosts hit so I wouldn’t lose the crop. An article I read said to wait until the foliage was blackened by frost and then lift them and on Saturday I found just this so hurried to get my fork and dig up whatever lay underneath the soil.
This is my first time growing sweet potatoes and having read a few articles on how to grow them, bought some plants from D.T. Browns. £20 for 15 plants, 5 of each variety; ‘Beauregard’, ‘Bonita’, ‘Murasaki’. When I planted them, I duly labelled them and planted each variety in a row of 5. Somewhere along the line, my labels disappeared so I have no way of knowing which variety are which. Since in the picture, they all looked such different colours I thought this wouldn’t matter but apparently I was wrong.
So I dug up my sweet potatoes hoping that the mass of foliage that was now rotting held treasures underneath! I wasn’t disappointed! Underneath the soil were some beautiful looking sweet potatoes. Some of them were huge, some were small and some were still nothing more than a small root which was put on the compost heap with the foliage. Some of the sweet potatoes were weirdly shaped, kind of like how carrots grow when to sow them into stony soil.
For 13 plants (from the original 15, 1 plant was eaten by slugs and 1 plant was dug up earlier in September to see if they were ready), the yield is not great. I essentially paid £20 for what you see in the picture but despite this, as a first time I am exceptionally proud of successfully growing a sweet potato.
Ass you can see, the colours don’t look like their pictures so trying to figure out which variety is which just by looking at them is hard. There is also quite a big difference in yield between the varieties. Having separated them out according to variety (at least what I think they varieties are), this is the yield for each variety (with stock photos for comparison).
‘Murasaki’ (stock photo on the left):
‘Beauregard’ (stock photo on the left):
‘Bonita’ (stock photo on left):
‘Murasaki’ was the easiest to identify as they were described as purple skinned with white flesh which as you can see, my tubers look like the stock photo. ‘Beauregard’ is described as salmon/orange flesh. My tubers have the same colour skin as the ‘Murasaki’ but have a strong orange coloured flesh which allowed me to tell them apart. ‘Bonita’ is described as white skin, white flesh but my tubers which I believe are ‘Bonita’ are orange skinned and orange fleshed but are definitely different from the other two varieties. In terms of yield, ‘Murasaki’ produced the largest number of tubers but varied greatly in size. ‘Bonita’ produced fewer tubers but those tubers were consistently larger. ‘Beauregard’ gave the lowest yield.
Last night, I did the taste test and took one specimen from each variety to see what they taste like as according to the descriptions from the supplier they have different tastes.
‘Murasaki’ (the white fleshed one) was the least sweetest of them all but have a lovely texture which I think would be perfect for making chips. ‘Beauregard’ (small orange one) was sweet and tasted like a normal sweet potato. ‘Bonita’ (large orange one) was described as being the sweetest of the three varieties but in all honesty I could say it was sweeter or tasted any different than ‘Beauregard’. I was hoping that between the taste and the yield I could whittle down the varieties and stick with growing just one but I think that ‘Bonita’ and ‘Murasaki’ are both coming joint first.
I have definitely learned a lot from growing this new veg and here are some of my observations from growing these plants.
- I should pot on the sweet potato plants when they arrive from the supplier.
I did not do this this year. I planted them straight into ground I had dug over in the end of May. For at least a month they struggled to do anything – at least on top. There were two leaves to each plant and it stayed that way for quite a few weeks and one plant was completely eaten by slugs. I had to viciously defend the rest of them with copious amounts of slug pellets (not good for the wildlife). All the articles I read suggested that I pot on but as it was approaching June I thought it wasn’t necessary. I now realise that it probably is necessary to do this as I think what I saw was signs of stress.
- They need a steady temperature and need to be protected from the cold
Whilst this is obvious, I found that the temperamental summer we had this year obviously had an effect on their growth. Certainly where I was, the summer started off quite cold, then a mini heatwave and then quite cold again. Whilst we didn’t have any frosts I think the cold hindered the plants growth. If I had potted on and kept them in a greenhouse then they would have been spared this or if I had protected with a cloche when they had been planted out, again, they may not have sat there doing nothing.
- There was the potential for a bigger yield
The runners that the plants sent out put down roots, a lot of roots, but when I pulled up the plants on Saturday, this roots were tiny short roots that hadn’t really developed into anything. I think that if the plants had had the opportunity to develop earlier and weren’t hindered by the factors above, those roots may have developed into big tubers and therefore would have increased my yield!
- Young plants will suffer from competition with weeds and stones will affect root development.
Again, this is obvious. All young plants will be affected by competition from weeds but what I mean here is that I really didn’t take the time to make sure the ground was completely weed free (and every chunk of root removed) before planting. I also didn’t pay any hindrance to how stony the soil is (and it is very stony). This is probably because I don’t worry about these things when planting normal potatoes because I build up the soil as the plants grow with garden compost, rotted manure etc which is free from weeds and stones. I had treated these plants like potatoes forgetting that they are not at all like potatoes and the only thing they have in common is the name. I also never enriched the soil before planting which probably didn’t help either!
- Slugs like them..a lot!
I really had to battle the slugs with these plants. I sprinkled metaldehyde pellets very liberally to stop the slugs which is something I don’t want to do again. The number of slug corpses and snail shells which littered the bed proved how tasty the young plants must be as I am pretty sure every slug resident on the plot moved in their direction! They also like to lay there eggs next to the tubers! As I was digging them up I thought there were bits of polystyrene in the soil which I thought was weird because the plants didn’t come in polystyrene. It wasn’t until I picked them up I realised they were slug eggs! There were large batches of them around the base of every single sweet potato plant. I haven’t seen that many slug eggs around any plant before!
Mostly, it is my own inexperience of growing sweet potatoes that hindered their growth and reduced the yield but these are all lessons learnt. I know better than to not enrich the soil or remove all the weeds but like everything this year – it was rushed! So my lesson is (hopefully) learnt – slow down, take my time and do it properly!
I am glad I got as many tubers as I did as it has spurred me on to try again. If I had gotten nothing I probably wouldn’t have tried again or taken the time to look at my own actions. I will try again with all three varieties next year to see if the yield increases. If ‘Beauregard’ gives me a consistently smaller yield again next year then I won’t continue on with that variety.
I am really looking forward to growing them again next year and looking forward to tucking into the harvest this year!