Photo by Cornell University
Sweet potatoes and potatoes complement each other. One is rich in Vitamin C (the potato), the other in beta-carotene. An enzyme in our gut splits one molecule of beta carotene into two of Vitamin A. Sweet potatoes are also rich in starches and sugars. Both crops store for months, given the right conditions.
A warm growing season three months long is almost all that sweet potatoes need. They have few pests and thrive in a wide range of well-drained soils. They’ll grow as far north as Z4, given a warm spot. Thanks to domestication over thousands of years (yes thousands), they often produce tubers the size of baking potatoes and bigger. Six to twelve tubers of varying sizes from one plant is a common tally. Dig them before frost.
The plant keeps growing as long as the weather is warm, a hint of its origin as a perennial vine from tropical regions of South America. There are three plants in my neighborhood garden that are three feet in diameter and still growing vigorously.
To the botanist, a sweet potato is a swollen section of root. It stores starches, sugars and root chemicals with odd, resinous flavors (that vanish in cooking). It’s in the morning-glory family which has other members that make tubers. For example: bindweed, a pest in my garden, sprouting from fat roots that grow a foot underground, climbing over everything in its path, then making fat pods stuffed with parachute seeds. Grr.
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