She Quit Worrying and had Sweet (Potato) Success!


Do you remember this post where Kerri worried about her sweet potatoes wilting?

My Sweet Potatoes are Wilting and have Yellow Leaves!

Good news. Kerri kept growing and ended up with a nice yield:



She writes in a recent email:

“Thank you so much for your help! I’m super excited to grow my second crop! Last year, I planted the slips on June 3 and harvested on October 8. I planted 11 slips in a 4×4 bed. (Of course the vines spilled outside the bed, making 18” of awesome soil on all sides of that bed! But there were no potatoes outside the 4×4 bed.)

The potatoes were delicious and we ate them all during the fall. On Christmas day, we mashed the final bit for the family dinner. The little ones were pretty great mashed. 🙂

Anyway, here are my questions for you:

1. Why are some so huge and some so little? I thought it might have been too many slips in too small a space, thus crowding the potatoes, but I watched your recent video and you planted a TON of slips together. Then I thought it might have been that I harvested too early, but I had a couple of super huge potatoes and I’m afraid they would have been monsters if I waited.

2. When should I plant my sweet potatoes this year? Is early June a good time? I think in the past you told me you usually harvest in November. If I plant them in late March, can I harvest earlier? (and maybe plant a second bed in June or July for fall!)

3. Will sweet potatoes grow in sandy soil? Maybe I can put them in the sand with some weeds and organic material and let them be some of the living roots in the ground like the Natural Farmer shared.

I appreciate your help and expertise in everything gardening! I’m voraciously reading your Compost Everything book right now. I am desperately trying to turn some sand into soil! 😀

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I love being able to answer the majority of my gardening questions by using the search bar on your site.”


Thank you, Kerri, I appreciate it.

Let me take the questions one at a time.

Why are some sweet potatoes huge and others little?

Short answer:

This is just the way sweet potatoes grow.

Long answer:

We’re used to seeing sweet potatoes in similar sizes stacked up in supermarket displays. Farmers don’t want huge potatoes or tiny ones, so those are culled.

The USDA breaks sweet potatoes into different grades.

For example, “U.S. Extra #1” sweet potato rules are:

1. Length shall be not less than 3 inches or more than 9 inches.
2. Maximum weight shall be not more than 18 ounces.
3. Maximum diameter shall be not more than 3-1/4 inches.
4. Minimum diameter, unless otherwise specified, shall be not less than 1-3/4 inches. (See §51.1605.)
Aren’t you glad you’re not trying to grow these things commercially? Culled sweet potatoes are often fed to livestock.
As a sweet potato vine grows, the largest tubers are at the base of the vine and secondary tubers produced along the vines are usually smaller. They’re a perennial vegetable and will keep making roots and running as long as you let them, though the first year’s yields have always been much better for me than vines that have stayed in the ground longer.
Smaller sweet potatoes can be used to plant the next bed or can be eaten. Here’s one we used for planting, as the big fat ones were already eaten:
It’s not like seeds. If you plant seeds from a plant with small fruit, you’ll often get small-fruited crops. With sweet potatoes, they’re clones thanks to vegetative propagation. That means a small potato or a large potato both give you the same type of vine with potential for large roots.

When should I plant my sweet potatoes?

You’re in Orlando, so plant them now if you can!
You can plant later but earlier plantings that get established before the blazing heat do better. I usually didn’t plant sweet potatoes any later than May in North Florida, and that was really late.
Get them in early and you’ll get even bigger tubers. Like these:
Heck yeah.
Sweet potatoes don’t like the cold, so whatever your gardening climate, be sure to plant them after the danger of frost has passed.

Will sweet potatoes grow in sandy soil?

Yes, absolutely. Sandy soil is great for sweet potatoes. I double-dug beds and added compost, then Rachel and I planted away.
Just feed them and they’ll thrive in the sand. They also really like mulch beds.
Good luck with your future sweet potato harvests and have a great 2017 gardening year.
And great work, Kerri. Keep it up.

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One comment

  • Neil in Jupiter

    I will second what David had to say.

    I always recommend sweet potatoes to anyone starting out in south Florida. They generally do well in any soil, sand or prepared bed, most of the time. I have three different beds going now for staggered harvest times. I get extra large to golf ball size in the same harvest. But they all taste good, no matter the size.

    Next step for me is to introduce some varieties to the rotation.

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