It’s that time of year again. The weather is becoming a bit more favorable, and the sun is peeking out from the gray sadness known as Ohio’s winter sky. I’m using all of my available willpower to stop myself from starting my tomato and pepper seeds too early, knowing that if I do so, they’ll become too leggy and big by planting time, which can sometimes be too much for my poor plants to recover from transplant shock.
What I can do to dust off the ol’ green thumb, however, is prepare a few sweet potatoes to start growing slips. In fact, I’m kinda kicking myself for not writing this blog last week. Mid- to late-February is the perfect time to tackle growing slips. I started mine yesterday (the picture is of last year’s slips), so you still have time to get in gear and give this a try.
Back in the olden days of 2010, when my husband and I were starting our farmers’ market produce production, we would buy our sweet potato slips via mail-order or from a local Amish supplier, Monroe. They usually came in bundles of 25 slips for a whopping $25 per bundle. If we were lucky, we’d find a deal for $20 a bundle, but this was still quite an upfront expense for our small operation.
And some years, the weather wouldn’t cooperate (the rains of 2014 really did us in), or I’d get lazy with my weeding (2012, when I was pregnant with Emery), and the yield would be less than stellar, making the cost of the slips really not worth the effort.
When we decided to take a break from market production, and really scale back our garden to just provide for ourselves, there really wasn’t a need for a full 25-slip bundle. The kids haven’t really developed a taste for sweet potatoes, so it’s just Matt and I who like to eat them throughout the winter.
I have always grown the “Beauregard” variety, and have found decent yields of medium to large sweet potatoes. Developed by Louisiana State University in 1987, Beauregard is a cultivar of sweet potato that is good for both commercial and home production. They are known to produce around 10 to 15 slips per potato, which is ideal for the average home gardener. For good measure, and the always-expected loss, I usually prepare two sweet potatoes for growing slips to insure that I have more than enough for our needs. If I have a few extra, I’m happy to share with a gardening friend.
I researched how to start my own slips a few years ago, and what I found was how easy it is. I was willing to reserve a few of my sweet potatoes for this experiment, and have been delighted with the results. If you don’t have any home-grown sweet potatoes to start your own slips, you can purchase an organic sweet potato or two from your local grocery store. All you need is a few sweet potatoes, toothpicks, mason jars (or pickle jars, whatever), and filtered water.
Whole or a Half
Now, I have tried both cutting a sweet potato in half and leaving them whole with mixed results. I found that cutting my sweet potatoes in half made it easier for them to sprout the white, hairlike roots, while the whole potato did nothing … absolutely nothing. Like, it just sat in the water like a floating turd. This may not be the case for you, and if you’ve never grow slips before, I suggest trying both ways to see what works for you.
First, I cut my sweet potato in half. Then, I poke the potato with three toothpick, which will keep them from falling into the jar of water (A totally submerged sweet potato is a drowned sweet potato.). Place your potato halfway in a jar of filtered water (I have a water softener, so I do not use my salted water for plants), and place the jars in a sunny, south-facing window.
In a week or two, you’ll start to see tiny, white roots emerge from the sweet potato, growing into the water. In another week or two, you’ll start to see pinkish, purplish sprouts erupt from the sweet potato. These are the slips you want. At this point, all you need to do is top off the water if the level gets too low. You’ll want the roots in water. Or, if you notice algae start to form, you’ll want to clean the jar and replace the water, rinsing any algae off the roots.
Also, I put my jars on the counter overnight, away from the window, especially when the temperature dips back below 25 or so. I don’t know if this helps the plants at all, but I don’t want to hinder the growth with exposure to cold temps. Sweet potatoes are tropical plants, after all.
When the slips have grown to about five inches or so, and have a few sets of leaves, it is time to pinch off the slips from the sweet potato, careful to break them off at the very base of the slip. Place the slips directly in a jar of fresh, filtered water. In about a week, you’ll see the slips growing white roots. Toss the spent sweet potato in your compost heap.
You’ll want the slips to have a healthy root system before planting. But, what’s even more important for a good yield is temperature. Sweet potatoes are not a cool-season crop. And here in Ohio, I might not plant my slips until June. The slips will keep just find in water, mind you watch the water for problems. If the slips get longer than two feet, I simply pinch them back a bit.
At planting time, place slips in mounds about two feet apart. Sweet potatoes thrive in warm soil, with a pH of about 6. They need full sun, and I usually water them in the morning. Beauregard sweet potatoes should be ready to harvest after 80 days, and are then ready for curing to bring out the sweetness.
I hope you’ll give growing sweet potato slips a try. If you have done this before, and have any tips for other readers, please leave a comment below.
Corinne Gompf is a writer and hobby farmer in Morrow County, Ohio. She is a graduate from the University of Toledo, with a BA in English, creative writing concentration. Along with her husband, Matt, and two children, Fletcher and Emery, Corinne raises poultry, Boer goats, rabbits, and chemical-free produce. Connect with Corinne on her Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page.
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