Plant Spotlight: Sweet Potato

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Sweet potatoes are a great addition to an edible permaculture garden. They are easy to grow, and often become almost unstoppable in Perth gardens! There is a saying in permaculture circles that the “Answer is always Sweet Potato” because it is such a useful plant for a variety of reasons.

Sweet potatoes are perennial in climates that remain warm year-round, but they can serve as a highly productive annual in cooler areas. They benefit from rich soils, but will hold their own in gutless sand or even heavy clay. The only thing they really don’t tolerate is cold temperatures, when the soil drops below 10 degrees, but even then they can be grown in polytunnels successfully.

How to Grow Sweet Potatoes


Sweet potatoes will grow in full sun to part shade and even tolerate very shady areas quite well. Sweet potatoes grow easily from ‘slips’, a cutting of 10-15cm in length taken from the end of the vine. You can usually obtain cuttings easily from other gardeners in the community, especially in autumn when the plant is often so vigorous it needs regular pruning to keep it in check. Some people start slips from an actual sweet potato by placing it in some water to encourage them to grow. Slips are said to produce a better harvest than planting sweet potatoes themselves.

Sweet potato slips in jar on table
Sweet potato slips are often available from our abundance basket and keep well in water for several days


The obvious reason to plant sweet potato might be for the delicious tubers, but in fact the leaves and stems are also edible. They multiply easily by simply putting a new slip in the soil, and are both drought and flood tolerant, making them a functional edible ground cover. A living ground cover is so important in our hot climate to help shade roots of other plants growing nearby. It will also make a great trellising plant.

Sweet potato in hand with leaves

Sweet potatoes grow well as part of a Banana Tree Guild. As well as being a useful ground cover, they don’t compete with nutrients from the very hungry banana. They also help reduce root competition from other competitive plants like lemongrass or vetiver, which are also useful plants in the guild but ones you don’t want getting out of control.

 

Storing Sweet Potatoes


When cured correctly (about a week or two in a hot, humid place) sweet potato can last for months in storage. The curing process covers over nicks and cuts, protecting the sweet potatoes from spoilage. Dehydrated sweet potato chips taste amazing and also store well.

 Chopping sweet potato on board

Nutritional Value of Sweet Potatoes

A superbly versatile vegetable, they provide more nutrition than their plain potato cousins, while having the added benefit of being lower in starch.  They are packed with beta-carotene, more than just about any other veggie, including carrots. They are also a solid source of vitamin C and dietary fibre. Mineral-wise, sweet potatoes are good providers of manganese, crucial for healthy bones and absorbing calcium, and potassium. Their nutrient profile promotes a healthy heart, good digestion, a strong immune system, and enduring eyesight.

 

Sweet potato salad with dips
Sweet potato chips make a delicious meal or healthy snack


In addition to the common orange flesh variety, there are a range of colourful types of sweet potato, including yellow, white and purple.

Purple and white sweet potatoes

 

Did you know?

The sweet potato is actually more closely related to tomatoes and capsicums than potatoes. While it produces an edible tuber like the potato, the sweet potato is actually a swollen root as opposed to the potato which is a swollen underground stem.

 

We would love to know your tips for growing a great crop of sweet potatoes. Which varieties do you grow? How do you enjoy cooking and eating them? Please let us know in the comments below or tag us in your social posts #urbanrevolution.

2 comments

  • Posted on by UR Team

    Hi Stephen, free cuttings are available in store. Sorry they cannot be posted.

  • Posted on by Stephen Stinson
    How much will the sweet potatoes cost with postage ??

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