There are many reasons I live my life the way I do. As a husband and father part of my responsibility in life is to help insure that my family has what it needs to survive, ie, food, water, a roof over our heads, and some simple (but very much appreciated) indulgences from time to time. I found in Urban Homesteading a way of procuring some of these necessities of life through my own hard work, persistence, innovation, and a spirit of experimentation.
Throughout the last decade I have tried many hands on, DIY skills – gardening, beekeeping, building stuff, fixing stuff, breaking stuff, making soap, homebrewing, learning about mushrooms, learning about website development, and many other crafts, hobbies, and obsessions! More than any one project, my biggest teacher in this time has been failure. Not failure in the way it can make you give up, but failure that makes you dig deeper and try again until you get it right. Failure as inspiration.
Sweet potatoes are one of those failures turned into a success. I think back to the winter of the multiple and massive polar vortices (‘13-’14) and how I came across a youtube video of someone who was growing sweet potato slips. Put simply, sweet potato slips are genetic clones of the “mother” sweet potato that are produced through rooting vegetative cuttings.
Nothing could be simpler right? Actually it is pretty simple, but there is one major thing I learned from that first attempt 2 winters ago. The sweet potatoes I used were most likely treated with Chlorpropham or a related chemical that prevents the natural growth of a starchy tuber in its quest to reproduce and pass on its genes.
Fast forward to this year and I made sure to start with a higher quality, organic sweet potato that we got from the local co-op. This simple step, using an untreated sweet potato, has made all the difference in success versus failure. While it has taken almost two months to get to where we are at, 3 of the 5 sweet potatoes are exhibiting vegetative and root growth.
Aside from a few sweet potatoes. you will also need a few jars, toothpicks, and water to grow your own sweet potato slips. Stab the tubers about halfway down their length so the toothpicks are sticking out like arms (3 of these in a roughly triangular arrangement). This will allow you to suspend the bottom half of the tuber in the water. I keep mine in a south facing window, and top off the water whenever they need it. Then all you have to do is wait!
Once the sweet potatoes are actively growing, and each slip is at least 3 inches long, you can remove the slips and the little chunk of tuber where they are growing out of with a small sharp knife or razor. Pot this up in a nice mix of compost for another month or so and then plant out. Or atleast that is what I have read and watched.
At this point the experiment is still live, so I will be doing an update on them as the season progresses. But so far a few key points to get started with are 1) Use an organic sweet potato 2) Start early. I believe I got mine started in mid February, next year I will start them in January. 3) Have fun and experiment. Try a few different varieties and compare growth rates, vigour, and eventually taste. Maybe you will find a new passion and geek out on sweet potatoes for a few seasons and collect as many exotic sweet potatoes as you can find! Until then, Peace and Cheers!