Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Growing Sweet Potatoes in my Florida Food Forest

For the last few years I've been trying to grow sweet potatoes in various places.

In Florida sweet potatoes are one of the easiest crops you can grow. Healthy, nutritious, low water needs, plus high in calories - you can live on these roots.

Bonus: you don't have to grow them in a conventional garden.

The first way I grew them as a kid, long, long ago, was in my neighbor's flower box when she was out of town. They took over and smothered the petunias.

It was awesome.

Later, I've grown them here and there in raised beds and in deep mulch gardens and even in my blueberry patch.

I don't recommend doing that anymore, since my blueberries grew really slowly thanks to the root competition.

I also tried growing them around cassava but the canopy overhead was too much for them - if I do that again, it will be with widely spaced cassava plants.

Now I'm sold on a better way to grow them: right in the food forest.

I've done that for a few years. It was a nice ground cover; however, the yields were poor due to the lousy compacted sand they were growing in.

After dumping a few loads of mulch last fall, however, along with doing a lot of chop and drop (and shredding stuff), everything is starting to look really, really good.

And the sweet potatoes know the soil has improved.

I went out on Sunday afternoon and started rooting around.

There was something good in the ground... I could feel it...

Almost there...

AH! Here's the mother lode!!!

Look at all the fungal mycelium in there - those are all those white patches. That's good stuff. I planted the original slips through 6-12" deep mulch into the soil, but they put roots everywhere. Check out this view of the path where I tossed the sweet potatoes I unearthed:

Mrs. Survival Gardener is my photographer. And lover. Shhh.
Overall, I planted perhaps 20 slips in the spring... and just let them run through the food forest around my trees and shrubs. Some made plenty of roots... some didn't.

The total yield?


Not bad at all considering I didn't water or fertilize or do anything from March all the way through November. I just let them ramble and occasionally pulled vines out of the paths.

Some of the tubers ended up getting quite large:

Check out my foxy new glasses. And my giant sweet potatoes. Which are more awesome? Hard to say.
The biggest sweet potato tipped the scales at 3lbs, 12 oz.

I really pulled in a decent yield considering the lack of work involved. Just some cuttings in spring, some deep mulch, whatever rain the Lord sent and then a little digging.

Fortunately, I received a lot of help from our two-year-old. That boy is great at filling baskets.

Babies + sweet potato harvesting = a great afternoon.
By the way, we buy our baskets from local thrift stores for a dollar or two each. They're great help on the homestead and much cheaper than buying new baskets or totes. Plus they're all different and homey.

If you haven't planted sweet potatoes in your food forest or mulch beds, why not try some in the spring? They're a wonderful crop and very rewarding. Pulling them up is like digging for treasure.

And the best part? We'll be enjoying these well into the winter... and when they're done, it'll be time to plant again.

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At November 11, 2014 at 7:21 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

good looking Sweet taters David,i'm hoping for a few myself but i planted very late.I bought some sweet taters from Tim sometime over the summer, cut the ends off them, and stuck them in the ground all around. when they came up and got a few inches long i cut some of the runners and stuck them around also. they're all growing vines. the potatoes we will have to wait and see :) as you say they are very easy to grow though .


At November 11, 2014 at 9:02 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

That's a great way to plant them. In south FL you can basically pull and plant vines year-round. Hope you get some. If not this year, next.

At November 11, 2014 at 10:52 AM , Blogger Phyllis Franklin said...

That is awesome! My now 3 year old also loves to fill the baskets.:) I tried to plant sweet potatoes once a few years (and two houses) ago. I got lots of vines and zero potatoes. Then I thought to myself, "Phyllis, where did you get the potatoes that you made slips from? Ah- the supermarket!" Wah-Wah-Wah!

At November 11, 2014 at 2:02 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Heh. I've actually had great luck with supermarket sweet potatoes - my bet is that they didn't set roots because they were either a: too happy or b: sad.

At November 11, 2014 at 6:39 PM , Blogger DFW said...

One of the few things I can grow in my over shadowy yard. I need to dig up my small haul this weekend as the vines have withered. But it has rained off & on over the past couple of weeks. I'll get no where near 70 lbs but for the few we eat, but it will be worth it, free!

At November 11, 2014 at 11:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wish it were already next year. Have some slips growing in a bowl with water. May try to transfer to a deep container inside to keep growing till it warms up next year.

At November 12, 2014 at 3:29 PM , Anonymous Wendy said...

We got four little sweet potatoes from two plants, but it was weird, some of the roots were up to 1/2" thick and pretty long, like they wanted to get bigger but didn't. The plants were from a sweet potato from the store that sprouted on our counter, but we live in MI, so we can't get them in the ground very early. So when you harvest them, how do you prepare them for storage and how do you store them?

At November 12, 2014 at 7:49 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Good idea. Keep them in a sunny spot.

At November 12, 2014 at 7:50 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

I let them "cure" in a shady dry location (my back porch) for a couple of weeks, then box them up and bring them indoors. They'll keep for a few months. We eat the little ones first since they dry out faster.

At November 12, 2014 at 7:50 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Oh yes. Free is the best.

At November 14, 2014 at 10:59 AM , Blogger Phyllis Franklin said...


At November 14, 2014 at 11:01 AM , Blogger Phyllis Franklin said...

David, you're messing up all my excuses for stuff not working. I was trying to learn here! I'm still waiting for more mushrooms to crop up so I can take a picture. I'm watering that raised bed extra to try to get some to sprout...

At February 21, 2015 at 2:39 AM , Blogger Kayla Sosnow said...

When do you wash them? Just before preparing to cook them?

At February 21, 2015 at 11:14 AM , Blogger David The Good said...


You got it. Though some folks wash them right after pulling, then let them dry and heal up for a while.

At March 25, 2015 at 8:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

check out "japanese" sweet potatoes. same genus and species, same method of culture, but they are red or purple/red skinned with white flesh. not nearly as sweet as common southern sweet potatoes (beauregard, georgia jet, jewell). instead they are white to creamy yellow, sarchy, flaky, with a taste reminiscent of chestnuts. you can get them at whole foods, or oriental grocery stores. they're popular with indians (from india) who think of them as "indian" sweet potatoes. i like raising them in tire towers.

At March 25, 2015 at 8:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

phyllis, nitrogen fertilizer will give you lots of vines and few or no roots. a little is o.k. to get started, but cut back once the vines start growing. conventional ferts, manure, bloodmeal, any source of nitrogen, a very light touch to begin, then nada.


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