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Sweet potato success

 
pollinator
Posts: 251
Location: Zone 8b Portland
30
forest garden fungi food preservation
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I’ve been trying to grow sweet potatoes in the northwest for about 5 years now. Every year I got back barely more than I planted in tiny tubers. I tried black grow bags, 15 gallon black plastic pots and various sunny spots. Nothing really worked.

Then last fall we had some trees taken down. After some observation I noticed a spot that now had full sun, was elevated and facing south. It was an old water fountain that no longer functioned and was built on top of a rock. Having read about fruit walls I thought it might be worth trying sweet potatoes there. So I made a terrace with some cedar logs and planted the potatoes. I watered them a few times and then mostly forgot about them. This summer wasn’t particularly hot so I figured I’d get back the usual low yield. I dug them up today. Turns out I was right about that spot being warmer. I haven’t weighed the tubers yet but one plant gave me back easily 5x what I’ve normally seen.

I’m beyond happy about this! Hooray for permaculture emphasizing observation’
sweet-potato-harvest.jpeg
sweet potato harvest
sweet potato harvest
 
gardener
Posts: 1515
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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When they find their happy place, look out.  They're practically invasive.  Good for you!  I'm glad you finally got the harvest you've been wanting.
 
Chris Holcombe
pollinator
Posts: 251
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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Thanks Marco! I was almost ready to throw in the towel on them this year. I kept hearing from people locally that growing them is impossible.  I’ve got a hunch about 2 other places that might be warmer. My fig trees there keep their leaves a few weeks longer than everywhere around them. I’ll try planting there and see what happens in the spring.
Now that I’ve got confirmation that spot is warmer I’m wondering if i could gamble with some satsuma seedlings.
Knowing the microclimates of your property is super important.
 
Posts: 12
Location: 7b Western NC
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I was considering using sweet potatos as an edible ground cover around and under new grafted fruit trees.  I am in 7b in NCarolina.  As the trees mature they will naturally block the sun and decrease the yield, hopefully transitioning to a fruit yield. I am encouraged by your persistence shown in trying to locate the sweet spot for your potatoes to thrive.  Any thoughts on this strategy?
 
Posts: 36
Location: Zone 6a
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That's awesome, Chris!  I wish that we could grow sweet potatoes year round in zone 6 unprotected.  I just bought a 30x100 greenhouse that will be heated.  Once I get it up, I plan to attempt to build some type of small vertical system in which I can grow them year round.  
 
Posts: 8
Location: Windsor, ME
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We've tried those grow bags. and maybe because its fall, though it has been sunny, and all the sprouts died.  Their in full sun, but the nights have been really cold (down to 28F).  Any suggestions?  
We're starting winter soon in Maine and I can bring the bags and totes of plants indoors, but I have no grow lights or green house, and the garage is not insulated.  I know where to plant them next year, based on the great ideas that Chris had about a sunny spot by my old rock wall.  Full sun and plenty of warm ground.  They should love it!
I'm trying to grow potatoes, winter lettuce, spinach, sweet peas, beets, onions, leeks, and several kinds of peppers.  They're all coming inside for the winter since they are in totes and pots, but without a grow light, and the light from my one window probably won't be enough.  Water and warmth aren't a problem.  
Help please! :)
 
T.J. Stewart
Posts: 36
Location: Zone 6a
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@Moria Teekema Do you have a greenhouse or a low tunnel?  If you do, I would suggest that you take your pots outside and stick them in there on warm days.  
 
Moira Teekema
Posts: 8
Location: Windsor, ME
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(TJ) - I wish we had a grow tunnel and/or a greenhouse.  I'm going to see what I can put together with some spare plastic and left over PVC pipe.  Thanks!
 
Chris Holcombe
pollinator
Posts: 251
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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I realized after my original post that I didn't do a very good job explaining what I had done.  Here's some additional photos showing that miraculously the sweet potatoes under the fountain are still alive.  This is after probably 4 nights slightly below freezing.  After reading about fruit walls years ago I started looking for spots around my yard that faced south and collected slightly more heat than elsewhere.  The real test though is planting a plant there that is heat loving and seeing what happens.  Since sweet potatoes are so easy to propagate in the spring by cuttings I generated a lot of small plants and placed them in most of the spots I thought were the warmest.  This spot under the water fountain turned out to be the best.  

You can see in the photos that it's elevated and facing south.  We have a wind that comes in the winter from the east and they're sheltered by the fountain and the raised soil.  The sweet potatoes have an almost unobstructed view facing south.  The benefit they're getting from being elevated and facing south isn't perfect.  You can see that only a tiny portion of the plant has survived below freezing temps.  I doubt they'll survive the winter.  I'm in zone 8b so it doesn't get that cold here to begin with.  
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Chris Holcombe
pollinator
Posts: 251
Location: Zone 8b Portland
30
forest garden fungi food preservation
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Ken - Yeah I think that will work out well for you.  I used to grow sweet potatoes in Philadelphia when I lived there.  They pretty quickly form a ground cover.  Winter cold nuked them every year so I'd have to replant.  I'd imagine you'll have to do the same.  The warm in NC should cause them to spread pretty quickly in the spring.  It can't hurt to try.  Sweet potatoes are easy to propagate.  
 
gardener
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Location: mountains of Tennessee
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I think sweet potatoes will do great in some parts of NC.

Nice one plant harvest Chris. Very nice. I've been tinkering with sweet potatoes a couple years. So far they have been easy to grow & make good looking ground cover. The leaves are very tasty too.
 
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