We are growing sweet potato slips on our windowsill. Little Eco added faces to sweet potato tubers and we’re watching their roots, shoots and character grow. It’s an activity that combines creativity, nature study and growing your own food. Win-win.
Sweet potatoes are typically grown from sprouts or "slips".
Slips are shoots from a mature sweet potato tuber. There are a few different ways to grow slips, but my favourite is to grow them on the windowsill where you can watch and learn.
To grow your own slips, you need organically grown sweet potato tubers – either from a store or a previous harvest. Conventionally grown sweet potatoes may have been treated to stop them sprouting.
You can leave your sweet potatoes whole or cut them in half. Place each tuber in a jar or glass and use pins or toothpicks to keep tubers suspended above the bottom. Fill with water, making sure that at least half of the tuber is out of the water.
Now comes the important bit: add faces. Forget this step and you will only grow shoots and roots – not character.
Place your tubers somewhere warm. The windowsill is ideal. Within a few days, you will see roots start to bud. Then after a week or two, shoots and leaves emerge. These are your slips.
Once a slip grows to at least 10 centimetres in length, carefully remove it from the tuber by pinching and twisting at its base. You can continuously pick off slips from a tuber for months.
Place slips in a jar of water to develop roots.
Once the slips have a good set of roots, they are ready to plant.
Choose a sunny spot in your garden where your sweet potato vine will have plenty of space to spread.
Prepare your soil a few weeks before planting by adding plenty of compost and a little aged manure. Ensure your soil is loose and well-drained. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilisers and too much manure, as these will promote leaves at the expense of tubers.
Plant slips about 20 centimetres apart. Position the slip in the hole so that at least half the slip is buried. Carefully fill hole with soil and press down. Mulch and water thoroughly.
You’ll be harvesting your first sweet potatoes four to five months after planting.
Sweet potatoes need a long, hot growing season to get a good yield. Here in the Hunter and further south, start your slips as soon as possible to ensure you have a long enough growing season.
Foodie fun for kids (& adults)
For those of you with young children, your windowsill sweet potato garden provides a great nature study opportunity. Discuss the different parts of a plant (roots, stems and leaves) and sketch and label one of the tubers.
Ask your child to list all the other root vegetables they can think of.
For the more adventurous, drag all your vegetables out of the fridge, and then ask your children to name what part of the plant they are eating: root, stem, leaf, flower, seed or fruit. Given our disconnection with the production of our food - I’m guessing a few adults may even benefit from playing this game.
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 27th October 2014.