Growing Sweet Potatoes

Try This Secret to Growing Sweet Potatoes in a Plastic Barrel: Lots of Tubers and Very Sweet to Eat

Growing sweet potatoes is a rewarding endeavor, especially when you discover the secret method of using a plastic barrel. This innovative approach not only maximizes yield but also enhances the sweetness of the tubers. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through every step of the process, ensuring a bountiful and delicious harvest.

Why Choose a Plastic Barrel for Sweet Potatoes?

Using a plastic barrel for growing sweet potatoes offers several advantages. The controlled environment minimizes pest infestations and disease, while the vertical space optimizes root development, leading to more tubers. Additionally, the barrel retains moisture efficiently, which is crucial for the growth of sweet potatoes.

Selecting the Right Barrel

Choosing the Material: Ensure that the plastic barrel is food-grade to avoid any chemical leaching into the soil. Recycled barrels that once stored food products are ideal.

Size and Preparation: A 55-gallon barrel is perfect for this purpose. Clean the barrel thoroughly and drill drainage holes at the bottom and sides to prevent waterlogging.

Preparing the Soil Mix

Sweet potatoes thrive in well-draining, nutrient-rich soil. Here’s how to prepare the perfect soil mix:

Ingredients:

  • Compost: Provides essential nutrients.
  • Sand: Enhances drainage.
  • Coconut Coir or Peat Moss: Retains moisture without waterlogging.

Mixing Ratio: Combine 40% compost, 30% sand, and 30% coconut coir or peat moss. Mix thoroughly to ensure even distribution of nutrients and good drainage.

Planting the Sweet Potatoes

Choosing the Right Slips: Purchase healthy sweet potato slips from a reputable supplier. Ensure they are disease-free and have vibrant leaves.

Planting Method:

  1. Fill the Barrel: Add the prepared soil mix to the barrel, filling it up to 6 inches from the top.
  2. Planting Depth: Plant the slips about 4 inches deep, ensuring the roots are well-covered. Space the slips about 12 inches apart.
  3. Watering: Water the slips thoroughly after planting and keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy.

Care and Maintenance

Watering Regimen: Sweet potatoes require consistent moisture, especially during the initial growth phase. Water the plants deeply once or twice a week, depending on the weather conditions.

Fertilizing: Use a balanced, organic fertilizer every 4-6 weeks. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, as they promote foliage growth at the expense of tuber development.

Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or shredded leaves, to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Mulching also helps maintain a stable soil temperature.

Training the Vines

As the sweet potato vines grow, they will start to spread. To optimize space and encourage more tuber production:

  1. Vertical Support: Install a trellis or stakes around the barrel to guide the vines upward.
  2. Pruning: Regularly prune the vines to prevent them from becoming too dense and to focus the plant’s energy on tuber growth.

Monitoring for Pests and Diseases

Common pests include aphids, sweet potato weevils, and wireworms. Monitor the plants regularly and use organic pesticides or insecticidal soap as needed. Also, watch for signs of fungal diseases and treat with appropriate fungicides.

Harvesting the Sweet Potatoes

Timing: Sweet potatoes are typically ready for harvest 90-120 days after planting, depending on the variety.

Indicators of Maturity: The leaves will start to yellow, and the vines may begin to die back. These are signs that the tubers are ready for harvest.

Harvesting Method:

  1. Careful Digging: Use a garden fork to gently loosen the soil around the barrel.
  2. Hand Harvesting: Carefully pull out the sweet potatoes by hand to avoid damaging the tubers.

Curing and Storing the Harvest

Curing Process: Cure the harvested sweet potatoes in a warm, humid environment (about 80-85°F and 85-90% humidity) for 1-2 weeks. This process enhances the sweetness and extends the storage life of the tubers.

Storage Conditions: After curing, store the sweet potatoes in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated area. Ideal storage conditions are 55-60°F with moderate humidity.

Growing sweet potatoes in a plastic barrel is a straightforward and efficient method that can yield a bountiful harvest of sweet, delicious tubers. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can ensure optimal growth conditions and enjoy a productive and rewarding gardening experience.