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Starting your own sweet potato slips is easy, and it's an interesting process to watch. When I was a kid, my grandmother used to start her own sweet potato vines using a potato left over from the previous year's crop. I don't know how many years she maintained the same line of plants, but I know she did it every year that I can remember, and her sweet potatoes always tasted extra good to me because I knew where they came from.
It takes about 6 weeks to get sweet potato slips that are ready to be planted, so plan back accordingly from planting time in your area. It may take 6 weeks, but your time and effort is very minimal, and the results are well worth waiting for.
To get started making your own sweet potato plants, you need the following items:
-A healthy sweet potato
-A glass jar
Select a good sized sweet potato that is firm and solid. You can simply get one from the produce aisle at the grocery store or better yet a local farmer's market. I just use one left over form my previous year's crop. It doesn't necessarily need to have the beginning of shoots coming out of the stem end. When I keep them in storage over winter, they just naturally start to sprout.
Find the stem end of the potato (this will be the top). Generally you can tell it from the root end by the shape. The root end tends to go to a sharper point than the stem end. Also the stem end usually has a flat scar where the potato was broken away from the stem when it was harvested.
Stick three toothpicks into the potato equally spaced around it about midway down the length. These tooth picks will support the potato when it sits in the glass jar and keep the end from resting on the bottom of the jar.
Place the potato in the glass jar. I use a pint canning jar for starting my sweet potatoes, because they always seem to be about the right size and there are plenty of them around the house. Fill the jar to nearly the top with water.
Set the jar and potato in a fairly sunny location in your house and wait. You'll be surprised at how quickly your sweet potato will begin to start sprouting little white rootlets, usually within 2 to 4 days. Within a very short time the jar will be filled with white roots.
Sprouts will begin growing within a week or so, and will continue to grow as long as you keep water in the jar.
My grandmother used to keep one growing all winter on a window sill in her kitchen for a house plant. She had sweet potato vines growing all around her window sill all winter and into spring.
Nowdays plant nurseries and greenhouses sell "ornamental" sweet potato vines in hanging baskets. I always knew Grandma was ahead of her time!!
When the sprouts are about 5 to 6 inches long, it's time to remove them from the potato. This usually takes 3-4 weeks from the time that you start the process.
Grasp a sprout near the base and pull sideways. The sprout should pull away from the potato, and leave a small hole or dent where it was removed. Remove all sprouts that are the right size.
If you didn't get enough slips from your sweet potato, leave it set in the jar, keep it watered and it will grow more sprouts within a few days. They can be removed in the same way, as they reach the right length.
Place all of the sprouts in another glass jar full of water, and leave them in the same sunny place. In a very few days you will begin to see little white rots begin to form and grow from the sprouts. These roots will grow very quickly, and soon fill the jar with roots.
After about two weeks, your sweet potato slips will have developed enough roots that they are ready to plant. Personally, I like to pot mine in individual pots with potting soil first then plant in my garden a bit later. Pot or plant them so that at least all of the developed roots are covered. There's no harm in planting them a bit deeper than that.
Potting them serves two purposes:
First, I can place the potted plants outside in a partially sunny location, which allows them to harden off gradually without getting their leaves sunburned like they would if you plant them directly into your garden.
Second, my garden is inevitably never ready when the sweet potato slips are. Either the soil is too wet, or I haven't gotten it tilled up yet. Potting the slips lets you have a bit of control over when they get planted. I like to leave the slips potted at least a week before planting them in the garden.
That being said, many people will plant their sweet potato slips directly into their garden with no ill effects. In fact I've done it before too. Do whatever seems right for you.
There is also a third advantage of potting your sweet potato slips. That is, that it is much easier to lay out the spacing in the row. You can simply set the pots in the row, and shift them around to space them out evenly until all the plants fit. Aim for spacings between 18 to 24 inches between plants
Plant your sweet potato slips in loose deeply tilled soil. Plant them at the same level as they were potted, or a bit deeper. When you remove them from the pot, you'll see that roots have already grown all the way to the edge of the pot - even after only one week.
Water them in well when you plant them. Unless it is very dry after you plant them, your sweet potato slips shouldn't need any additional care except for keeping them free of weeds until they get established and growing.
Once established, sweet potato vines require little care. I'll mulch
lightly around mine with dry grass clippings to help control weeds, but
that's about all until harvest time.
Use a potato fork to dig your sweet potatoes in the early fall before the first frost hits. You'll be amazed at how many you'll harvest.
The picture above shows most of our fall harvest from the same 16 plants. Imagine - all that from one sweet potato started in March!
your own sweet potato slips can save you the cost of buying slips from a
nursery or greenhouse, but it can also give you the satisfaction of
knowing that you can do it yourself. It's one more simple skill that
you can add to your tool kit of self sufficiency.