Growing sweet potatoes in England

Margaret emailed to ask what I knew about growing sweet potatoes. The answer is virtually nothing! But I do know a man who grows them, so I wandered along to talk to Andy, whose allotment work is supervised by a seagull called Henry who shares Andy’s lunch and will eat from a fork (I kid you not!)

Apparently the key thing here is to get some organic sweet potatoes if you’re using supermarket stock – because most of the other ones they sell have been treated in some way to stop them sprouting. It’s not that easy to get seed tubers of sweet potatoes in the UK, but Andy doesn’t even bother, he just grows supermarket tubers.

He lays them lengthways, half-covered only, in damp sand over a heated base tray to promote sprouting in early March and this causes ‘slips’ to grow and when they are four or five inches long he breaks them off and pots them into 1 litre pots. Other people grow the slips by setting the lower half (generally more pointy) of the tuber in a jar of water on a windowsill apparently.

Then in late May or early June, once all risk of frost has passed, he sets them out into a sunny trench. Where they go insane! It takes at least 110 days for them to mature and because they are Ipomeas (morning glories) they spread out like jungle plants and tend to take over nearby areas. Keep them warm, keep them watered but don’t worry about pests, it appears they don’t really have any – a bit of wire worm in late tubers is about all he’s seen, he says.

Dig them up as late in September as the good weather permits, then put them in a greenhouse for a week to let the skins cure and the tubers sweeten and Bob’s your uncle, apparently!

Now this is all based on growing in the South East of England, and shouldn't be taken as a guide to anywhere else, but if you treat sweet potatoes as a semi-tropical plant, I think you'll do okay

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Sunday, February 21, 2010


Blogger Jo said...

I've been meaning to look up information on sweet potatoes so this post is timely.

February 22, 2010 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I'm starting the slips of sweet potatoes now--they'll be the first I've ever grown. I'm so excited! Woohoo!

I'm trying the bottom in water approach. Once the slips get to be 4 or 5 inches long, I'll snip them off then root them in water before potting them up.

Thanks for the comment on the beet salad. The Dame Edna remark cracked me up. Unfortunately, I have been getting so many spam comments lately, and I accidentally deleted your very good comment with the bad ones. Ugh. I'm sorry.

February 22, 2010 at 6:14 PM  
Anonymous allotments4you said...

sounds interesting...I haven't even eaten sweet potatoes let alone gown them but I am now quietly curious...I may just buy one to give it a go.

February 24, 2010 at 2:47 AM  
Blogger Mal's Allotment said...

Thanks for this. I bought some organic tubors/slips last weekend and have been looking around since for information. From what I've found out, and your feature... I think I'll curry them and eat them now!

February 24, 2010 at 12:31 PM  
Blogger Mal's Allotment said...

Thanks for this. I bought some organic tubors/slips last weekend on a whim and have been reading up on the internetabout growing them. What a pleasant surprise to find you've given a first hand account of the reality in the UK. Being in snowbound Edinburgh...

...I think I'll curry them this weekend.

February 24, 2010 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Jo, good luck!

Christina - do please let us know how you get on.

Tanya and Mal - seet potatoes are wonderful and very good for you - sweet potato curry is one of our favourite vegetarian dishes. But needing 110 days of sunshine strikes me as a pretty tough call almost anywhere in the UK.

February 28, 2010 at 1:25 PM  
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March 20, 2010 at 12:49 PM  
Blogger Jane Mc said...

Oh sweet potatoes - one of the posters mentioned that they hadn't even eaten one! I hope that's now rectified... they're lovely. I find that to mix 2 or 3 sweet potaotes with 1 or 2 regular spuds makes the most beautiful mash ever..!
THanks for the advice on growing them - I plan to start next year with some.

July 6, 2010 at 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Emma said...

I grew my own slips in 2009, which was fun, and passed some to a friend who had great success growing them:


January 11, 2011 at 6:42 AM  
Anonymous H's plot said...

Hi. thanks for all the info, What soil and feed is best for these sweet potatoes?

June 24, 2011 at 8:03 AM  
Blogger Demi said...

I bought my sweet potatoes (beauregard) as plants from my local b&q have got 6 in the polytunnel in big pots 5 in the tunnel in the ground and 1 outside. The ones in the polytunnel are going crazy, definitely very much like ipomeas( which I also grow) the one outside is alot smaller but as the ones I've seen at Eden are about the same size I'm not too worried about it. I am concerned that the ones inside will end up being all leaf and stalk and no potato, should I cut them back a bit or just leave them to it? I live in Penzance in Cornwall so the weather is fairly balmy.

August 20, 2011 at 6:14 AM  
Blogger Scyther said...

Hi all,

I grew a large crop this year where I live on an island off the coast of massachusetts. We have considerably more warm weather here than any part of England, but even here it is smart to set the slips in beds covered with black plastic or fabric. In the UK I would think it would be a must. If you don't get good results the first time try it the next year with a poly-tunnel as well over them, open on the ends.

The key to getting slips to take is to keep them well-soaked for 8-10 days, do not let the soil dry around them. After they are growing well they are highly drought tolerant. Like any tuber make sure K is adequate. N requirement is light, but they do need some.

The picture posted here looks like Korean Purple, the same that i grew this year. It is a superior flavor and texture, and of course is short season, in ideal conditions will make in 90 days, but for me here it was better yield at 100-110 days. I would avoid Beauregard, it has inferior eating quality compared to many others.

October 5, 2011 at 3:16 PM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Scyther - that's very interesting. I hadn't appreciated the need to increase the temperature at the slips stage. Maybe I'll try again in 2012!

October 6, 2011 at 3:26 AM  
Blogger Jim Morrison said...

I'm in the process of growing a sweet potato in a pot. I had one sitting around for a week or so after I bought it and it started to sprout so I cut off the sprouting end(I cooked the rest) and initially kept it in water for a couple of weeks to start it off. then I just set it gently in a pot of soil and kept it watered. It's now 15" long and growing and it's beautiful!. Sweet Potato in London in October - how about that.Jim M.

October 17, 2011 at 12:53 PM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Sounds good Jim - let us know what the harvest is like!

October 24, 2011 at 3:00 AM  

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