It all started with an add on Craigslist. I wanted to grow sweet potatoes, but I needed one to start. Just one person, a guy from Mineral Point named Chuck, replied. He said he would be glad to give me a potato to sprout. He even brought it to my house. This should be a fun experiment, I thought. Even a few potatoes would be a success because I would then have my own to sprout next season.
Sweet potatoes are not propagated like regular potatoes. In other words, you don’t cut them up and stick them into the ground. I put Chuck’s sweet potato halfway into a jar of water and waited. Roots grew into the water. It took a long time for the first sprout to grow, but after that it took off. Each sprout, called a slip, is broken or cut off the potato, then rooted in water. The slips root very quickly. If it’s warm enough, the slips can be planted into the garden, or they can be planted into containers for later transplanting.
The starter potato can yield several plants, each of which can produce four or more sweet potatoes. A good return on investment, especially since I got mine for free. Did I mention how much I like Craigslist?
Later I had a few sprouts from a couple potatoes I got from the farmers market, but those potatoes were not as vigorous and I didn’t really need them because Chuck’s potato provided at least 20 slips--almost more than I had room for.
I planted about a dozen slips in a three-by-12 raised box made from pallets. I needed more space so I planted slips in just about every open spot. The slips kept sprouting so I kept planting well into the summer--some were even planted in July after the garlic was harvested. I figured it was probably too late to get many potatoes with these late transplants, but I hated to waste them. I planted one slip in a whiskey barrel planter. Chuck, who was nice enough to provide instructions too, said he had good luck with that last season. I even tried smaller containers (still large, but smaller than the whiskey barrel) because you just never know what might work.
Fast forward four months . . .
Today Kelly and I dug just over 150 pounds of sweet potatoes. Every plant grew at least four potatoes and one grew ten. I guess sweet potatoes like it here. I was surprised by how well they grew in containers. One even put out roots through the holes in the container and grew 2 large (each more than a pound) potatoes underneath the pot. That's a pretty determined plant. Some of the potatoes were huge. The largest, which was pulled from the whiskey barrel, was 7 pounds. That's bigger than Patrick when he was born. Patrick was cuter though. At least I think he was.