Show Me Oz – I have been growing my own sweet potatoes for years, but I always do it the same old way and with varied results. The most common method of starting sweet potato slips is to root a whole sweet potato in a jar of water. The sprouted shoots are then pulled off the mother tuber and rooted in potting soil before being set in the garden. (see Start Your Own Sweet Slips). Yet, I always seem to have trouble getting the tuber to root and send up enough shoots during the cold winter months to have the slips ready by planting time. And I never seem to get enough slips. So, this year I tried a new and very simple method of producing an abundance of sweet potato slips with a lot less fuss and muss.
First of all, I decided to skip rooting the sweet potatoes in a jar. I’ve had so many potatoes rot while using this method that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it again. Plus, the water in the jars can get smelly and slimy, and constantly having to fuss with them was just too much. And again, even when I root multiple sweet potatoes, I never seem to get enough quality slips by the time I’m ready to plant them out in the garden.
The solution came to me quite by accident. Thanksgiving was coming up, so I was sorting out the sweet potatoes in the pantry trying to decide which ones I would cook for our meal and which I should hold back for slip production. It had been a long wet summer here in Oz and our sweet potato harvest had been marginal. I didn’t want to waste a single large tuber on sprouting slips. It was then that I noticed a number of small 4″- 6″ long tubers that were already beginning to sprout. Suddenly this crazy idea took root in my brain….
What would happen if I planted a couple of these tiny tubers in a pot of dirt right now and let them grow ALL winter long in my little windowsill garden right alongside the aloe and the petunia that I always winter over for spring cuttings? Surely, the tubers would root and have plenty of time to grow a healthy amount of vegetation by early spring.
I love it when things work out as you imagine them. And to my delight, the tubers sprouted eagerly and within a month or so multiple vines were beginning to sprawl over the edges of the pot. And by January, two of the vines had grown so long, that I had to wind them around the pot to keep them from twining around the other plants in the window.
By the time I was ready to start rooting the slips in early March, there were a half dozen vines that were several feet in length. I cut the vines from the mother plants, leaving 6”- 7” of mature vine on the mother tubers. And though they did not have a single leaf left on them, I had hopes that they would very soon. and set about cutting these into pieces that
So, I set about cutting the vines into small pieces; each piece had at least one leaf and one or two buds beneath it. Each piece was then planted in soil up to the first leaf and spaced no more than an inch apart before being deeply watered.
Being the pragmatist that I am, I decided to do another experiment with one of the vines. In another pot, I laid the entire, uncut vine on top of the soil, coiling it around and around until the entire vine was laid down. Then, I covered the vine with just enough soil to hold it in place and watered it deeply.
Both pots were then lightly covered with a plastic bag and kept out of direct sunlight for a few days to help maintain leaf moisture and prevent wilting. And then I waited.
And then I waited.
Spring is a busy time and three weeks flew by. By now, I could clearly see that the first pot with the cut stems was putting on new leaves at the leaf joint. The coiled vine pot didn’t seem to be producing any new leaves, but clearly had grown roots from each and every leaf joint. I should have let it go – for experiment’s sake – but I finally decided to unearth the mass and have a look.
Indeed, each leaf joint had set down healthy roots. But what surprised me were the teeny tiny new leaf buds that had just begun to form at each leaf joint – even at joints that had no leaf present ! Since I already had the mass out of the pot (which would be difficult to put back in the pot correctly at this point) I went ahead and cut the vine into pieces as I had done with the other vines.
This time, though, each piece consisted only of a single leaf and the roots from that one leaf joint – except of course the pieces that had roots, but no leaf. These I went ahead and planted as if they did have a leaf – because most of them appeared to be sprouting leaves from the node. All of the pieces were planted in a pot, just as I had done with the others. Within days, I could see new leaves beginning to emerge from each piece!
With one pot holding two very small sweet potatoes, I managed to eek out approximately 40 sweet potato slips with very little effort or input. All 40 of these slips are now rooting in two 6” pots that fit nicely on the windowsill (which is good, because that’s all I’ve got for sunny spots in my house!).
The bonus? The leftover few inches of vine that I left on the mother plants have sprouted new leaves from every single leaf node, giving me at least 14 more potential sweet potato slips! That’s what I call a sweet deal!
If you have ever wondered if there was an easier, neater, and more productive way to start sweet potato slips, the answer is “Yes, there is!” I hope you’ll try my winter-sown method for your own sweet potato slips and be sure to let me know how it works for you!
Until then, happy gardening!
© 2016 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
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Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and
A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.