GROW SWEET POTATOES IN NORTH FLORIDA
A warm, honey-sweet aroma fills the house when homegrown sweet potatoes are baking in the oven. Only their unbelievable taste surpasses the deliciousness of the rich, homey fragrance. Like so many other vegetables, sweet potatoes from a home garden explode with flavor. Oh, what great sweet potato pies they make for Thanksgiving!
And get this: Sweet potato plants love poor, sandy soil. What’s more, they experience few pest problems, require little regular tending or fertilizing, and thrive in our summer heat!
In North Florida, we plant sweet potatoes March through June. They grow best in hot weather, so I generally do not plant sweet potatoes until May or June. I begin harvesting them in November, or earlier for some varieties or for “baby bakers.”
I enjoy having sweet potatoes growing in my garden during the summer because they have such lush green foliage to look at when most everything else is dead or dying.
According to the University of Florida Extension, the recommended varieties of sweet potatoes for Florida are Porto Rico, Georgia Red, Jewel, Centennial, Coastal Sweet, Boniato, Sumor, Beauregard, Vardaman. Beauregard, or “Mississippi Red,” is a favorite of many local gardeners and is the one we like best. I have also grown Vardaman, Centennial and Georgia Red sweet potatoes.
Set plants 12 to 14 inches apart in mounded rows that are 8 to 12 inches high. A higher row allows more space for the potatoes to develop. The rows should be about 48 inches apart.
You can mix in a little low-nitrogen fertilizer before you plant, such as a 2-8-10 if you can find it. Many growers believe the potatoes are even sweeter when grown without fertilizer.
You will probably only have to weed once or twice, when the plants are young. As the plants get larger the dense foliage helps to shade out weeds.
Don’t have much garden space? Try growing sweet potatoes in a large container. A container about the size of a bushel basket works for one plant. Just fill it with some sandy soil and keep the plant watered throughout the summer.
Your sweet potatoes will be ready for harvest in about four or five months, after the plants begin to yellow. They can be harvested earlier if you prefer smaller potatoes.
Carefully dig out the tubers, removing
them from the soil by hand. The skins are tender and should not be
damaged. Put them in the shade to dry for a few hours if the weather
will allow. Dry them indoors for about 10 days to toughen the skin.
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