The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Sweet potato propagation

Starting sweet potato slips in a jar of waterLast year, I thought I had sweet potato slip production figured out.  My method was quite simple --- submerge about a third of the potato in water, put the containers on a heat mat, break off sprouts once they form, then put the slips in water to grow roots.

My only complaint was that starting the potatoes in early April meant I could only plant one bed at the frost free date and had to put out the rest of the sweet potatoes a bed or two at a time until early July.  So this year I started my sweet potatoes near the end of March...and the tubers sat there doing nothing for a few weeks before over half of them rotted away.  We're still on schedule to plant a bed of slips this week and will fill in all of the parts of the garden I'd allotted to sweet potatoes, but we didn't get the jump on the season I'd hoped for.  Maybe March is just too early to start sweet potatoes?

Rooting sweet potato slipsI also think I blew it by focusing on big tubers for sprouting, compared to the small tubers I used last year.  Various extension service websites suggest that the optimal sweet potato for sprouting is only an inch and a half in diameter.  Next year, I'll bypass those chunky monsters and use mini-tubers as seed stock.

If I remember, I'd like to try another alternative technique next year as well.  The pros start their sweet potatoes in hot beds of moist sand, and I think I can mimic that on a small scale by putting a seed starting tray full of sand on the heat pad instead of jars of water.  I suspect the sand would prevent this year's molding problems by keeping the tubers moist but not wet.

On the plus side, I discovered that chickens really enjoy half rotten sweet potatoes.  Maybe once we work the kinks out of our propagation method, sweet potatoes will be a component of farm-grown chicken feed?

Quit your job and start to live!

This post is part of our Farm Experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Assuming that the seed roots were not subjected to flooding in the previous production cycle, adventitious sprouts should appear when the temperatures are around 80-85F for at least 2 weeks, relative humidity is above 60%, and that the whole root is not submerged in water. These roots need to "breathe." Seed roots can be "preheated" (80F for about a week, >60% RH) in place prior to bedding. This should shorten the number of days between actual bedding and the appearance of sprouts.

Best of luck!

Comment by Arthur Mon Mar 28 02:00:37 2011
Good reminder about the pre-heat. I'm slated to start some more sweet potatoes shortly, and I think I'm going to set them in the warm spot by the incubator for a week to see if preheating will help this year.
Comment by anna Mon Mar 28 07:47:20 2011

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