Sweet Potato Slips

Gardeners once treated growing sweet potato slips as a closely held secret, but we prefer to share knowledge and spread the wealth.

| May/June 1985

  • sweet potato slips - grown potatoes
    Mature sweet potatoes, ready for cooking OR cultivation into new slips.
  • sweet potato slips
    As this photo demonstrates, you can obtain a good number of sweet potato slips from one potato. A big root can yield from 25 to 50 plants.
  • sweet potato slips - growing plants
    During the first few days after moving the plants from hotbeds to raised beds, you'll need to provide water to lessen transplant shock. After that, the taters need little attention.

  • sweet potato slips - grown potatoes
  • sweet potato slips
  • sweet potato slips - growing plants

When I first started raising bedding plants for sale, I was able to gain some expertise from reading and picked up a few tips from my friendly competitors, as well. But the forcing of sweet potato "slips," a specialty practiced by only a few growers, was a secret that no one seemed to wish to share. Eventually, however, a man who was about to retire agreed to teach me his methods.

This grower started his slips in a hotbed. He dug out an area about 1' deep, laid down 2" of straw (sometimes, he said, he used corncobs or even small broken twigs), and covered the coarse layer with 4" of fresh horse manure topped by about 3" of loose and leveled sandy soil.

Sound tubers from the previous year's crop were laid on this bed, topped with another 3" to 4" of very sandy soil, and watered. The entire seedbed was then covered with panes of glass raised upon a frame, and burlap bags were placed over the panes to retain the warmth generated below. A few days later, the manure had begun to decompose, and the sand felt warm to the touch.

After about two weeks, my instructor removed the burlap insulation to allow the shoots to soak up some sunlight. (The first green beauties were just peeking through the sand.) He also opened the glass a bit to provide ventilation on sunny days. When the plants were about 5" tall he removed the cover.

The "opening of the tater bed" was an event that had been eagerly awaited by our area's impatient gardeners, and they flocked to the event like chickens to a pail of cracked corn. The grower dug gently into the sand and snapped the plants from the tubers with a slightly twisting, tugging motion, bundled them as ordered, and passed the young sprouts to waiting hands.

By nightfall, the bed looked like a disaster area, but the grower watered it thoroughly with lukewarm water, and the surface once again appeared smooth and level. He assured me that more shoots would emerge to supply the gardeners who hadn't been able to come on "opening day."


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