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Whether baked in the oven, fried as chips or pureed in soup: the lovely sweet potato can be prepared in a variety of ways and tastes pleasantly sweet. Therefore, the vitamin-rich tubers are also enjoying increasing popularity in this country. The robust useful plant can be grown in the garden or in the tub. The instructions show how to properly plant, care for and harvest the sweet potato.
- Plant Family: Convolvulaceae
- Genus: Morning glory (Ipomoea)
- Species: Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
- Common names: white potato, batata
- Origin: Central and South America
- forms bulbous, edible storage roots
- deciduous, herbaceous climbing plant
- Shoots are between one and two meters long
- large heart shaped leaves
- funnel-shaped, white to pink flowers with a short flowering period
The sweet potato is a true all-rounder: the long shoots with the large leaves and delicate flowers climb above the ground, while the nutrient-rich, appetizing tubers grow underground. Although the batata comes from the tropics and subtropics, it can also be cultivated well in Central Europe with the right care. The tubers are easy to propagate and thrive in good growth conditions. Follow planting and harvesting recommendations to get the most out of this versatile crop.
The sweet potato, a morning glory plant, is only distantly related to the potato, a nightshade plant. The taste of the tubers, which are usually orange, white, yellow or purple, is more reminiscent of carrots. Batata originally comes from Central and South America, where Christopher Columbus allegedly discovered the exotic tubers in the 16th century and brought them to Europe.
Today, the Ipomoea batatas is grown in large quantities in China, but also in Africa and Central and South America. It can also be found in some southern European countries such as Portugal and Spain.
The fast and lush growing Ipomoea batatas combines ornamental and useful plants in one plant, which is why it is very suitable for the garden. It can also be cultivated in a bucket on the balcony or terrace.
So that the plant has enough space to grow and the harvest is worthwhile, the pot or bucket should have a capacity of at least 30 liters. As soon as they have grown, caring for the sweet potatoes is relatively easy. Therefore, the plant can also be cultivated by inexperienced hobby gardeners.
Sweet potatoes thrive best in a warm, light and sheltered spot. A sunny to semi-shady place and temperatures around 24 degrees Celsius are ideal. At lower temperatures and in shady locations, it grows more slowly. If the temperature drops to ten degrees Celsius or less, the sweet potato stops growing altogether and it dies when it freezes.
Some varieties tolerate direct sunlight only to a limited extent. When the leaves start to burn, the Ipomoea batatas needs to be moved to a more shady spot. Since the Ipomoea batatas develops long, climbing shoots, it also needs space to spread out.
- it can be cultivated either as a ground cover or as a vine
- the Ipomoea batatas needs a climbing aid for climbing, for example a scaffolding or frame
- alternatively, the Batata can be placed in the ground on a (house) wall or a fence, which it can climb up
- on the balcony or terrace, the shoots can be placed over the parapet or a fence so that they hang down decoratively on the other side
- in the bed, the sweet potato should be grown in ridges similar to the regular potato, these should be about 20 centimeters high
- A distance of 50 to 60 centimeters is recommended between the individual plants
The site should also be kept free of weeds. To curb growth, the substrate can be covered with lawn clippings or compost, for example. In addition, the weeds that grow anyway should be weeded regularly. The sweet potato has a very high nutrient requirement and weeds remove important substances from the substrate.
The sweet potato prefers a sandy, well-drained and nutrient-rich substrate. If the useful plant is placed in a bed in the garden, the garden soil should first be mixed with compost or horn shavings. Please note that the Ipomoea batatas grows up to 30 centimeters deep into the ground. The nutrient-rich substrate layer should be thick enough accordingly. You can use commercially available potting soil or a mixture of sand and compost in the bucket.
The Ipomoea batatas is sensitive to frost and should therefore only be planted outside after the ice saints from mid or late May. In the greenhouse it can be planted earlier in the ground. The plant has the best starting conditions outdoors if you grow it indoors from the end of winter.
Here's how to do it:
- fill a pot or box with loose substrate, such as garden soil or a mixture of compost and sand
- put the seed tuber on the ground
- place the jar in a bright and warm room or indoor greenhouse, there must be at least 18 degrees Celsius
- ensure even moisture of the soil
The seed tuber sprout within a few weeks. Alternatively, you can first germinate the tuber in water.
- fill a glass with water
- halve the sweet potato
- hang half a tuber in so that it is about half covered with water
- So that it does not fall in, you can, for example, insert several toothpicks into the tuber in the upper third so that they lie on the edge of the glass and hold the sweet potato in place
- the interface should point downwards
- each piece of sweet potato needs its own glass for cultivation
- put the jar on a bright, warm window sill;
When the tuber has formed several shoots that are at least 20 centimeters tall, the young plant can be planted outside in the bed or in the bucket from May. For this purpose, the loosened garden soil in the bed should first be mixed with compost and horn shavings.
The tuber is then placed in a hole in the ground that is as deep as the roots. Fill the hole with substrate and gently press down around the plant. Finally, the young plant is poured vigorously. The shoots can also be planted as cuttings.
- cut the shoots from the tuber with a sharp knife
- fill a shallow bowl with water in which to place the shoots
- after a few days the first roots form
- now they can be planted outside
The easiest way to cultivate is to use pre-grown plants or seed bulbs from specialist retailers. The seed bulbs should not be stored for long, but planted in the ground as soon as possible. They are susceptible to mold in the standard plastic packaging.
The Ipomoea batatas needs a lot of water, especially in warm summers, and has to be watered regularly. Make sure that the substrate always remains evenly moist. To minimize evaporation, you can add a layer of mulch to the soil in the bed. Compost, leaves or lawn clippings are suitable for this. However, the plant does not tolerate waterlogging, which is particularly important in the bucket. Excess water should be able to drain below.
In the growth phase between March and September, the Ipomoea batatas is fertilized every three weeks. Complete fertilizers or horn shavings are suitable for plants in the garden bed. If the sweet potato is in the bucket, it is best to give it a regular portion of liquid fertilizer.
Since the Ipomoea batatas is not hardy and does not tolerate frost, it is usually cultivated as an annual plant. New crops will be grown next year.
Towards the end of the growing season, the Ipomoea batatas stores nutrients in its roots, which thicken like bulbs. When the above-ground parts of the plant wither and turn yellowish, the daughter tubers of the sweet potato can be harvested. This should be done in September or October before the first frost.
The harvest is associated with little effort:
- on harvest day it should not rain if possible
- lift the plants out of the ground with a digging fork or by hand, for example
- use caution when doing this as most of the tubers are close to the surface of the soil
- cut off the withered leaves and branches and dispose of them in the compost or organic waste
- What remains are the nutrient-rich tubers of the sweet potato
- gently shake off the soil, but do not wash the tubers
- the sweet potato is thoroughly washed just before processing
- Immediately after harvesting, the tubers should air dry for about two to three days, preferably in a warm room with high humidity
- during this time they mature and develop their typical taste
The sweet potatoes can then be processed and eaten or stored for a limited period of time.
Due to their high moisture content, the tubers of the Ipomoea batatas have a limited shelf life as they can rot. They can be stored for a few months in a dark, dry room if the temperature does not exceed 14 degrees Celsius. A potato box in the basement is best.
When storing, avoid the following:
- do not put the sweet potatoes in a bag or sealed jar, otherwise they will quickly become moldy
- if they fall off, the sweet potatoes will form large patches, which should be avoided
- do not store the sweet potatoes near fruit, which gives off ethylene, which can cause the tubers to rot
- the cold-sensitive tubers should never be placed in the refrigerator
If you want to plant Ipomoea batatas again next year, you can save some tubers from the current crop and plant them again in late spring.
Sweet potatoes are difficult to propagate from seed. They sometimes form none or only a few, which germinate poorly. Cultivation via seed tubers is therefore the most promising. These can be purchased either from specialist retailers or online. If you harvested sweet potatoes yourself last year, you can keep some tubers from your own harvest and cultivate them next year, as described in the “Plants” section. You can also propagate an existing plant using offshoots.
You can get an offshoot in late summer before the Ipomoea batatas withers. To do this, cut off a shoot that is about 15 to 20 centimeters long and place it in a glass of water. After a few days, the first roots form. Now the shoot can be placed in a pot with a loose substrate, such as potting soil.
The offshoot overwinters indoors in a warm, bright spot. The substrate must not dry out, which is why the young plant must be watered regularly. In the spring it is then strong enough and can be planted outside in the bed or in the tub.
pests and diseases
Sweet potatoes are hardy and are rarely affected by diseases or pests. From time to time the tasty bulbs attract voles. The plant can best be protected with the help of a vole basket. It is placed in the planting hole before planting and surrounds the root ball with a wire mesh that keeps the pests away.
to the type Ipomoea batatas belong to different varieties, which differ in details. "Blacky' has rather dark, lobed foliage, while 'Marguerite' developed light green, heart-shaped leaves. The variety "Black Tone' grows particularly well in intense sunlight and has black-red foliage. The most popular varieties also include "centennial" and "Beauregard". If you want to harvest sweet potatoes, you have to make sure that you don't use ornamental varieties like "Sweet Caroline Purple„, „Autumn" or "indica" Caught. These form only very small nodules. In contrast to the useful varieties, however, they bloom longer and form larger flowers.