Growing your own sweet potatoes

Questions for our ‘Fourth Estate’
July 26, 2019
Conflicting Identities
July 26, 2019

Growing your own sweet potatoes

Did you know that sweet potato is processed into flour, starch, confectionery, alcohol and animal feed?

Sweet potato or ‘kumara’ (Ipomoea batatas [L]) belongs to the family Convulaceae and originated in the northwestern part of South America around 8000–6000 BC and in Central America.

The plant was initially discovered by the Chibhuan people around 3000 BC. Reports suggest that it was cultivated in the regions for many centuries before it moved to Africa and then introduced to Europe in the 16th century.

Today, sweet potatoes are cultivated in almost every part of the tropics and the temperate regions. The world’s largest producer is Asia where China produces more than 80 per cent of the world’s production.

There are over 400 different varieties in the world presently. Due to its high nutritional content and antioxidant elements such as beta-carotene, ascorbic acid and tocopherol, which protects against heart disease and cancers, sweet potato is used mostly as a staple food throughout the world.

It is processed into flour, starch, confectionery, alcohol and animal feed. The crop can be planted year round however July and December are considered to be the best time for planting.

Your sweet potatoes should be ready to harvest four to five months later. Gently dig them up from the ridges and the size of the potato should indicate its maturity. Be sure to cut new slips from the vines for replanting.

Sweet potato prices are always fluctuating in the market, be sure to try growing these in your backyards so that you can have these nutritious sweet potatoes for your family and even to share with friends.

Here are some steps to grow your own sweet potatoes at home:

  1. Sweet potatoes thrive in a sandy loam soil with proper drainage. Ideally the pH of the soil should be around 5.5 to 6.5.
  2. Clear the desired area and create ridges. Ridges can be formed 1– 2 feet high and keep them 2–3 feet apart from each other.
  3. Sweet potato can be propagated via seed (small tuber) or a slip (a cutting from the vine). If using slips, ensure that they are cut 15–18 inches from healthy plants.
  4. When planting, insert slip 6 inches into the ridge and 1foot apart from each other. Watering should be done immediately after planting. Water thrice weekly for the first five weeks of growth then after proper root development, you can water once weekly.
  5. Fertilising can be done using a 12:24:12 fertiliser three weeks after planting. You can also use a foliar fertiliser every two weeks to encourage vegetative growth.
  6. Be on the lookout for pest and diseases (sweet potato weevils etc). Practise an integrated pest management approach in your garden.

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