ISO Advice about Growing Sweet Potatoes
I've been reading Larry's thread about his sweet potato harvest. I'm growing sweet potatoes for the first time, have questions about what to expect, and what I can do to improve my harvest.
Background: Last spring, inspired by stories I read in this forum about growing sweet potatoes, I contacted Gary at Duck Creek Farm. We discussed my soil and growing conditions (ideal for sweet potatoes, they are a big cash crop in this part of Virginia), I ordered 14 varieties. I decided to do trials to find out which varieties we liked, and which grew best here. Before the plants arrived, I made three 30-35' raised beds about 10-12" high, 10" wide, and 4' apart. I laid cardboard between the rows to suppress weeds and keep the vines from rooting.
On June 13, I planted about 100 sweet potato plants (thank you Gary!). I used newspaper and grass clippings as mulch. Within a couple of weeks, the plants were growing strong and sending vines out everywhere. Temps this summer were normal hot. We got some rain. Deer got into the garden once, ate all the sweet potato leaves. I panicked, hit the Internet, and read stories from other people with deer issues. The sweet potatoes recovered very fast.
On Sept 21, I pulled up a couple of plants (Bugs Bunny) and harvested 5 potatoes (1 was 1.25 lbs, 4 were 6-10 oz). The plants had lots of skinny roots so I decided to give them more time. Tonight, I cut the vines on five varieties (Centennial, Cordner's Red, Norton, Carolina Ruby, 8633) and looked for tubers. I found several large potatoes (over 1 lb). Most plants had a couple of small tubers, and/or long skinny roots, or lots of thin white roots and no tubers that I could find.
Since sweet potatoes are a new crop for me, I don't know what to expect. I have questions ...
- What is a good harvest?
- Do most of your plants make big tubers? How big? How many tubers per plant is good?
- Do many of your plants have long skinny roots?
- How much of a factor is the sweet potato variety?
- Should I have cut the vines back during the growing season?
- Would cutting the vines give the plants more energy to use in making tubers?
Tonight, I cut the vines off about half the crop, didn't get any potatoes from at least half the plants that had long skinny roots. Our first frost is usually mid to late November. Would you recommend leaving them in the ground for a few more weeks, or until we have frost warnings?
Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to provide all the info I could think of. ;-)