Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are believed to have
originated in South America. They are in the same plant family as
morning glories. Notice the similarities in the
flower and leaf structure in the photo to the right.
Although some orange varieties are marketed in the U.S. as "yams", sweet
potatoes are not related to true yams,
which are of West African or Asian origins, and rarely found in
the United States except as imports.
Cultivation of sweet
potatoes in North America occurred as early as 1648 in
Virginia, and reportedly taken into New England in 1764. They were
grown by the Indians in the Southern U.S. in the 18th century as
Several months of warm weather are required to produce the sweet
potatoes biggest tubers. Northern growers can benefit from
using black plastic to warm the soil for about 3 weeks prior to
planting. Sweetpotatoes should
be planted in a ridge (raised row) to provide drainage and allow
for root expansion. Space ridge about 3 1/2 feet apart with plants
set 1 foot apart.
receipt of your slips,
placing them in a jar of water until you are ready to plant will
perk them up, allow you to wait until weather conditions are
perfect for your area, and give you time to prepare your soil.
Please note: Your plants may appear severely wilted which is
normal, there maybe leaves that appear rotten or slimy and this is
also a natural occurrence, just remove the slick or slimy leaves
and place your plants in a jar of water as discussed earlier. Sweet
potatoes are extremely tough and resilient plants and once
livened back up will take off and grow well.
Keep transplants moist after being set in the field and water
before the soil dries. Weed control will be necessary until the
vines meet between the rows.
What your package may look like depending on the size of your
Inside the box
Typical 'bunch' of plants
Plants placed in jar of water.
Harvest the tubers as soon as they have reached eating size. They
must be harvested before the vines become frosted. If you do get
an unexpected frost, dig tubers immediately as the decay in the
dead vines will travel to the tubers and rotting will occur. Sweet
potatoes should not be stored at temperatures below 55ºF. The
optimal condition for storage is slightly above 55ºF and at high
humidity. Under these conditions they will store for six months.
Q. What is the difference between a sweet
potato and a yam?
ago, orange flesh sweet
potatoes were introduced in the southern United States and
farmers and shippers desired to distinguish them from the standard
white flesh types. The African word "nyami" referring to
the starchy, edible root of the Dioscorea genus of plants, was
adopted in its English form, "yam".
Yams in the U.S. are actually sweet
potatoes with relatively moist texture and orange flesh.
Although the terms are generally used interchangeably, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture requires that the label "yam" always be
accompanied by "sweet
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