Sweet potato hunting again

Then & now... Left: the growth from the original sweet potato. Right: the same area 11 months later. Note: what you see is only half the current patch!

It’s been almost a year since I planted sweet potatoes, and the plants have usurped a lot of garden space! It’s such a jungle that, unlike my dogs, I daren’t wade through either of the two sweet potato patches because I don’t know what exactly is lurking under all those leaves. I’ve seen snails, hairy caterpillars and various insects, for starters. And just last week, I watched in morbid fascination as the leaves of the patch under the mango tree moved in a sinuous motion. My brain was creating images of a snake slithering through the undergrowth, when suddenly a little tailorbird shot out from under the leaves! It had been foraging for insects under there. I was relieved, to say the least! Nevertheless, it made me take another look at the amount of space that the plants were taking up, and I decided it was time to go a-hunting for sweet potatoes, and if there weren’t any, to claim the land back.

Bottom left: the original stem cutting that grew. Top right: the sweet potato that grew from that stem cutting. Missing between the two: a stem or root that I accidentally severed when digging.

So, one sunny afternoon over the long Chinese New Year weekend, I decided to work off some energy and clear out the sweet potato patch I’d started from cuttings. Starting from the outer edges, I yanked out the long vines. Most of them had taken root at almost every leaf node, sending out lots of surface roots. Note: that’s bad because additional roots mean energy is diverted from the original roots and potatoes won’t form. Or so I’ve been told.

The vines were so wild that one had sneaked around the back of the chain link fence, intertwined itself with the the plants growing there, eventually emerging at the top of the fence!

There were a lot of vines, and I worked my way from the outside in, because as I said, I was wary of what might be lurking under there. I think the worst things I encountered were centipedes and small beetles that scuttled off, startling me. No snakes, thank goodness! I also hadn’t realized how heavy the vines, accumulated, would weigh, and ended up pulling the vines out, hand over hand, one at a time. It was more of a workout than I’d expected and boy, am I feeling it now…

While clearing the vines, I also kept an eye out for sweet potatoes. I knew there was supposed to be a thickened stem leading down to them, but there were only a couple of possible roots that were slightly thickened and orange in shade. They mostly ran along the surface before becoming skinny, regular roots. It was quite irritating – I had marked the spots where each stem had been planted, and most of those original plantings had died out as the vines spread and rooted everywhere else.

I lost hope.

The baby sweet potato - result of about 10 months of growing...

And then I came to the last cutting I had planted, which was on a raised mound. That mound had been eroded a couple of times by heavy rain and I had rebuilt it before the whole place got overgrown and I lost sight of it and forgot about it. So, I started moving earth away, out of rote, when I suddenly realized there was something peeking out at me! No way, I thought …but indeed there it was – a sweet potato! A tiny one, though, and not worth the 11 months and large amount of space. However, I do wonder if the potato belonged to vine that had grown up the fence. That could explain why it actually developed at all – it didn’t have as many root nodes.

At the end of this story, I can say that I’ve grown sweet potatoes… well, a sweet potato… :|

Lessons learned:

  • Know that sweet potatoes take up lots of Time and Space.
  • Plant them in raised beds/mounds.
  • Don’t let them take root everywhere!
  • Take heed when an old kampong girl gives advice. My Big, Huge Bad. :(

Do I want to grow sweet potatoes again? Maybe, just to know that I can do it the right way. What turns me off is the amount of space the plants take up. I wonder if container planting will work…

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Sweet potato hunting again — 4 Comments

    • Yeah, I was avoiding plucking the leaves because I was told that this also reduces the chances of potatoes forming. See where that got me? :|