Potato season has started with many seed potatoes chitting away in preparation for planting in a few weeks’ time and others ordered and on their way. We all have our favourite varieties but how about also trying something new this year and growing sweet potatoes?
Originating from Central and South America seed potatoes are large, starchy, sweet-tasting tubers packed with goodness. High in fibre, vitamins and minerals yet low in calories the sweet potato is well on its way to becoming a super food.
Sweet potatoes are a perennial climbing vine and are only distantly related to the normal potato. Potatoes belong to the nightshade family of plants whereas sweet potatoes belong to the convolvulaceae family along with morning glory.
Gardeners may have been put off sweet potatoes due to their reputation for needing a long hot growing season – perhaps not best suited to a normal British summer! However new varieties have been developed that are perfect for our cooler climate and are fast maturing and these are all included in the Suttons range – see below:
Beauregard – This is probably the most well-known as it is the variety readily available in shops and supermarkets. In Louisiana alone they dedicate more than 9,000 acres of land to growing Beauregard sweet potatoes. The plants produce good crops of medium sized tubers with sweet, salmon-orange flesh. Varieties such as this with deep-coloured flesh are high in beta-carotene – an added benefit!
Bonita – Tan-skinned tubers with a pink/purple cast, and bright white flesh the Bonita is the sweetest of the varieties available. Perfect for traditional potato dishes or how about sweet tasting chips? Bonita Sweet Potato is not yet available from supermarkets.
Burgundy – Uniform plants producing well-shaped, red-skinned tubers with sweet, burgundy-orange flesh. This variety has an excellent flavour and is not yet available from supermarkets.
Murasaki 29 – Sweet, tender, nutty-flavoured tubers, with the added bonus of delicious edible leaves. And this Japanese, purple-skinned variety doesn’t lose its colour when it’s cooked!
Traditionally sweet potatoes have been grown from ‘slips’ which can be a bit tricky but here at Suttons we supply Super Plugs, well-rooted and actively growing, which are easier and give far better results. They can be planted direct in the garden in a sunny spot or grown in containers or growbags in the greenhouse. Being a vine they will need some canes or string to clamber up, if planted outside they will look great growing against a trellis.
Feed the plants regularly with liquid tomato feed and keep the soil moist and your reward will be a good supply of sweet tasting tubers. These will be ready for harvesting in autumn once the leaves have turned yellow and died back.
Sweet potatoes don’t store well and cannot be frozen but this won’t be a problem as you’ll be keen to tuck into that sweet-tasting flesh! They can be prepared in the same way as a normal potato although you may like to try something new. In China the tubers are cut into chunks, fried and then dunked in pans of boiling syrup, in the USA they are served as a candied side dish or turned into sweet potato butter whereas in Egypt they are simply baked and sold as popular street food.
Sweet potatoes are great in curry, risotto and make a beautiful soup. Oh and don’t ignore the leaves and shoots – these are pretty tasty too!