It seems almost too good to be true. Sweet Potatoes, those sublime, golden-orange tubers that we just can’t get enough of, also happen to be the most nutritious of all vegetables. In fact, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Sweet Potatoes are more than twice as nutritious as any other vegetable. High in Vitamin C as well as calcium, folate, potassium and beta-carotene (which the body converts to Vitamin A), Sweet Potatoes are also an excellent source of dietary fiber, protein and iron. And, though they are sweet, Sweet Potatoes have half the glycemic load of white potatoes. They’re a good carb that our bodies digest slowly, so we feel satisfied far longer than with most other foods.
We’ve always had a sweet spot for these delicious, incredibly versatile kitchen chameleons that can be enjoyed as a savory or as a sweet. We eat them baked, boiled, pureed, mashed, steamed, grilled, fried and roasted – and now we can enjoy them even more, knowing they’re one of the very healthiest of all foods!
It’s Fun to Grow Your Own
Sweet Potatoes are heat lovers that need a long growing season and warm soil. Until recently, this has made it difficult to grow them in the colder parts of the country. Now, with short-season varieties such as Vardaman and Beauregard, gardeners everywhere can produce a bountiful crop.
Vardaman is named after the sweet potato capital of Vardaman, Mississippi. Introduced by the Mississippi Agricultural Extension Service in 1981, it has a bushy growth habit that’s ideal for small spaces or containers. The fruits have golden-yellow skin and moist, sweet, bright orange flesh. Though we can think of a hundred ways to enjoy eating Sweet Potatoes, one of our favorites is a roasted mélange of Parsnips, Butternut Squash and Red Onions tossed with olive oil and butter, and thinly scissored Sage leaves. Arrange the vegetables on a baking sheet or baking dish and roast in a 425 degree oven for about 45 minutes until crisp and golden-brown.
Beauregard is a terrific introduction from Louisiana State University that’s widely adaptable and produces an excellent crop~even in the North. These large, elongated tubers have thin, red-orange skins and deep orange flesh with a moist, light and creamy texture. More disease-resistant than most, Beauregard always yields an impressive harvest. For a colorful side dish, peel a couple Sweet Potatoes and steam the chunks until completely soft. Mash them with a fork and serve with butter, maple syrup and a touch of orange juice. Or go savory with a dash of cumin, chili powder or sumac. We always make extra and warm it up the next day for a quick lunch, topped with goat cheese and crushed pistachios.
Tips for Planting and Care
When you plant regular Potatoes, you simply bury small pieces of ‘seed’ Potato. Planting Sweet Potatoes is entirely different. They’re grown from rooted sprouts called “slips.” When these tender, 3” to 6” sprouts arrive by mail, they usually look a bit limp and rather sad. But don’t worry. Once planted, they quickly recover and grow like gangbusters.
Sweet Potato plants love heat and hate cold weather. They should not be planted outdoors until the soil has warmed up to at least 60 degrees F and nighttime temperatures are also above 60 degrees F. If it’s too cold outdoors when the slips arrive, plant them in moist growing mix and keep the pots near a warm, sunny window.
Prepare a fertile planting bed with soil that’s loose and rich in organic matter. Don’t add extra fertilizer as too much nitrogen encourages leafy growth rather than big tubers. In cold climates, black plastic can be spread over the prepared planting area to help warm the soil and retain the sun’s heat into the wee hours. Plant the slips in rows, approximately 12” to 18” apart, covering the stems with soil right up to the first pair of leaves. If you are planting in containers, give each plant its own 18” x 18” pot. Don’t be tempted to plant more densely, as the tuber yield will be significantly reduced.
Newly planted Sweet Potato slips need protection from chilly spring nights. We can’t stress this enough. For the first three to four weeks after planting, coddle them under garden fabric to reduce stress and speed early growth. Mulching with black plastic helps warm the soil, suppress weeds and discourages the vines from rooting on the surface of the soil, which diverts energy from tuber formation. If you are not using plastic mulch, lift the vines from time to time to disengage the roots that form along the stem. Give the plants plenty of space to spread out. Each Sweet Potato slip will produce a cascade of heart-shaped leaves on up to a dozen 3 to 4 foot vines.
Regular potatoes die back to the ground when they are ready to harvest. Sweet potato plants will keep right on growing until they’re killed by frost. The tubers don’t size up until the very end of the season, so let the plants grow as long as possible (at least 120 days). That said, it’s important to harvest Sweet Potatoes before the first heavy frost because cold temperatures will damage the sensitive tubers. You'll find Sweet Potatoes are easier to "dig" than regular potatoes, as the tubers tend to hang right onto the stem. As you're harvesting, treat the tubers very gently. The skin is extremely thin and just a pinch will bruise the flesh.
Once harvested, let your Sweet Potatoes air dry for a day or two. Then “cure” the tubers for 5 days at 80 to 85 degrees F. Uncured Sweet Potatoes last for several months, but properly cured Sweet Potatoes will keep for eight months or more. A warm, dark attic is an ideal location for curing. Another option is to put your Sweet Potatoes in the oven with a light bulb. Check the temperature first with a thermometer to make sure it is not warmer than 85 degrees. The optimum temperature range for storage after curing is 55 to 60 degrees F.
Please note: we are unable to ship Sweet Potatoes to Alaska, California or Hawaii.