Here’s the first of a new series I’m starting on the different varieties of plants you may find. Today we’ll be taking a look at the absolutely delicious vegetable known as sweet potato (ipomoea batatas). Also known as yam*, this wonderful plant hails from the tropical regions of Southern America and is usually grown for the tuber, although the roots and leaves are also perfectly edible.
Despite the name, sweet potatoes go great in many savoury dishes such as: sweet potato pie, chips (fries) and, in my opinion, especially well with a hearty Sunday dinner in place of mashed/roast potatoes. As a vegetable it’s really flexible and its uses are only really limited by your imagination. On the other hand, it can also be used as a sweet dish when candied. Although I’m yet to try this, I hear it’s all the rage in the USA around Thanksgiving time, so it’s definitely worth a try.
To grow, you will need a warm, moist environment – preferably with well aerated soil to prevent fungus growth. It’s a bit (very) sensitive to frost though, so be sure to only get them in the ground after you’re sure the last of the frost has passed otherwise you’ll lose them really quickly. Also, against what I usually say, err on the side of caution when fertilising them. If the soil gets a bit too rich you’ll end up with long, beautiful vines, but not much in the way of actual potatoes. Should the unfortunate happen, just slow right down on the fertilisation and don’t try to water it down or we’ll end up with dead friends. Your best bet is to find some sandy soil though, always works well and will have them thriving for a good part of the warmer months.
With that said, they’re really easy to grow and if planted around April-time you’ll probably have them growing all the way through to September when they’ll start to die down, so you can probably get 150 good days out of the sweet potato plant. Not bad at all and definitely worth the space. Be careful of insects though, they’ve evolved to understand how tasty the heart-shaped leaves are so you’ll end up with a plant resembling Swiss cheese if they were left to their own devices. My best advice would be to keep spraying diluted hot sauce all over them (they can’t take the heat – hohoho) and checking the undersides every now and then for eggs just in case.
Overall, it’s a joy to have around the garden, the beautiful chartreuse leaves will attract all sorts of flying friendlies and keep your tummy happy for a long time. I could rave for days about how much I enjoy the taste, but I think I should probably tuck in. Bon appétit!