Grow Sweet Potatoes — Even in the North

This nutritious, easy-to-store crop is one of the best staples for anyone looking to be food self-sufficient.

| June/July 2011

large cut sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are surprisingly easy to grow in different regions of North America and, if properly cured, they have quite a memorable flavor.


An ideal staple crop for those seeking to meet most of their food needs with homegrown produce would be nutrient-dense, offer high yields, and have excellent flavor and storage qualities. A crop that fits this bill perfectly? The sweet potato.

Sweet potatoes are more nutritious and store better than any other root crop — they’re easy for home gardeners to keep for a full year. And while many people think of them as a Southern crop, you can in fact easily grow sweet potatoes in northern climates.

Unforgettable Flavor

I’ve been growing (in Canada!) and learning about sweet potatoes since the mid-1980s, when my friend, Suzanne Mason, who lives in South Carolina in the winter, brought me a half-bushel of cured sweet potatoes. They were incredibly sweet and delicious. I thought I knew sweet potatoes, but I never imagined they could be this good!

I wondered whether Suzanne’s grower in South Carolina had a secret. There must be a secret, or I wouldn’t have gone my entire life without coming across this superb flavor.

I now know that the matter is a bit more complicated than one simple secret. There are five facts about sweet potatoes that may seem like they’re secrets — because a sweet potato rarely makes the trip from field to dinner table without one or more of these facts being ignored — but none of them is optional if you want truly great sweet potatoes. Each ’tater truth by itself, if neglected, is sufficient to reduce flavor.

Five Facts for Fabulous Sweet Potatoes

1. Sweet potatoes are alive and they breathe. Never store them in a sealed plastic bag — the gases from their respiration will build up and the potatoes will eventually poison themselves. Paper bags or boxes are good for storage, or throw plastic tarps loosely over your crates of sweet potatoes. In fact, as long as you take care with the curing process (see fact No. 4) and store them at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you don’t need to cover sweet potatoes at all during storage (unless rodents could access them).

10/2/2017 9:31:24 PM you leave the clear plastic down the whole growing season?

10/2/2017 9:31:20 PM you leave the clear plastic down the whole growing season?

10/2/2017 9:31:16 PM you leave the clear plastic down the whole growing season?

8/29/2014 10:14:23 AM

Our Georgia Jets were ordered online from Steele Plant Company. We haven't dug them up yet, but they're blooming so they must be authentic.

Desiree Hardigree
4/6/2014 10:04:50 PM

To cure them could you simply use the clear plastic to wrap them up and then put them in the sun? It would be both Humid and Hot, or should they be kept in the dark? That is if you have no other way to control the temp. in your house. we heat with wood so the house is hot and dry or cold and humid unless its summertime.

2/11/2014 12:02:13 PM

Have any of you found a reputable supplier for the "real" Georgia Jet?

6/16/2012 9:38:43 AM

Great article! I'm only sorry I didn't receive it a month ago--no more room in the garden now.

6/9/2012 4:06:46 AM

I am growing sweet potatoes in burlap sacks and had a good crop last year and hope for another good year.My ground is so hard this seemed like a good way. The Japenese grow them this way too.I was told by another man, he grows them in piles of leaves?!?!

Angie Mohr
5/8/2012 3:10:29 PM

Would like to see more detailed information on planting or growing tips. Will they produce more by planting like white potatoes? (i.e. hilling up?)

4/30/2012 10:25:09 PM

I used this method in the Pacific NW last year and was able to produce some very good sized sweet potatoes. The two last potatoes were saved for slips and I now have 15 in the greenhouse. They will not go in the ground until June as the weather is too inconsistent. We had a very wet cool summer last year, so I am hoping to do better this year. I cured the sweet potatoes in the back room where I was running the food dryer. The room is on the SE side of the house and gets full sun in the afternoon, so it gets pretty warm (no AC in our house).

Susan Wigley
1/1/2012 3:29:21 AM

I can't wait to try growing sweet potatoes in Tacoma, Wa! I think using clear plastic makes a lot of sense in our climate. Thank you for the great information.

Vince Dobson_2
7/24/2011 6:53:14 PM

And, yes, you can produce slips from the previous harvest. That is the only way our forefathers had to do it. If you want a really big harvest (I harvested 5 ea 5 gallon bucket fulls from 12 slips set out.) then spread about 2" deep compost (1 in. at a time) over the new vines as they grow without covering the growing tip.

Vince Dobson_2
7/24/2011 6:44:20 PM

I would remove the plastic as soon as the vines start running because at every node the vines send down roots and they will make more potatoes on each of these roots. Last year I harvested sweet potatoes up to 30 feet away from where I planted the slips. This year I planded a few in the middle of a 30 ft long raised bed and the vines have reached the end of the beds and when they do, I guide them in a U turn back down the bed. I already have gone out to the part of the bed where I planted the original slips and dug down with my hands until I feel a tuber where i dig around the tater and pull them up as needed to eat. It does not hurt the vine which will continue to produce more potatoes in the space made by pulling one up. At frost I will dig and cure them although I am thinking about leaving some in the ground for storage under a covering of hay. So take the plastic up if you want a 10 fold crop.

6/17/2011 3:30:19 PM

We don't put taters in water for slips. We have them in metal crates w/lots of air circulation. I have 2 crates in my living room right now - the taters are sprouting like crazy all on their own. We will be putting the best ones in the nursery - hilled up rows in the garden. Let them grow. When there is a good amount of vines/slips, we cut the ones that are about 2 feet long. They are laid in trenches cut into the hilled up rows in the main tater bed - leave just the tips sticking out. Every place there is a node, taters will grow. Cover with dirt & water good. They'll wilt & look dead at first, then perk up & grow like crazy. This gets LOTS of taters going without the rooting slips first mess. Keep the weeds down. Keep the vines cut back to encourage tater growth. Even the nursery bed will produce lots of taters. We put our's in the metal crates next to the woodstove to "cure" & that's where they stay. Don't let them get too hot, but they don't mind being very warm. Cover if the room gets too cold when the stove is not burning. The taters I have right now are from last October & still edible. Don't bruise them.

6/8/2011 10:32:56 AM

Im not new to gardening but am new to growing sweet potatoes. I tried getting a sweet tater to sprout slips last spring but it didnt produce anything. You say that sweet taters' metabolism decreases and stops in cool temps. Does a sweet tater need to be kept at a constant temperature during the soak cycle to develop slips? What would that temperature range be? What if the taters get cold during the winter during storage? Will they be able to revive and produce slips or do they become effectively dead? Is there a minimum temperature range to keep sweet taters above during storage if you want to soak 'em for slips later on?

6/4/2011 11:43:36 AM

I have a couple Questions. Do you take the plastic off or leave it on until Harvest? Can you product slips from tubers you harvested the prior year?

Victor Breach-South Africa
6/4/2011 12:33:37 AM

Having just signed up to this site, I am already finding loads of great tips. I live on a small non working farm of 98 hectares(200 acres), with 12 hec's arable, the rest is mountain fynbos, now I want to start living off the land. What a wonderful article on sweet potatoes. I am very new to gardening and would like to have some guidance on how to prepare the soil for sweet potatoes and other veg's. Living in South Africa we have plenty of sweet potatoes, but are short lived in the shops. This article gives me hope to have these all year round. At 64 I am not able to grow big time, only enough to live on. Keep the info coming, please. With regards, Victor The Newbie.

Frank Higgins
5/31/2011 9:14:49 PM

good sweet potatoe bit

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