Sweet Tater Containers
In South Carolina, where I was born, sweet potatoes are as common in the garden as on the plate. My great grandmother gave me a piece (slip) from one of her plants back in 1998. Since then, we’ve grown that same plant every year. After cutting the vines and harvesting taters, we take slips and save the smallest taters for planting the following year.
They were grown in my community garden plot for years before the rabbit and vole populations exploded. The rabbits ate the foliage and voles ate the taters. You can’t afford any sweet potato setbacks in Chicago since there is such a short growing season for tropical crops. Because of the pest populations, our sweet taters have been container grown for past three years. Although not ideal, in a rich, well-drained soil mix they’ll produce a good crop of taters. In fact, they won the Moss Award for Best Container Crop in 2008.
Sweet potatoes need hot weather, so this year ours have only been potted for a little over two weeks. Growth is phenomenal once established. They produce heaps of lush foliage just like the ornamental varieties. However, you’ve got to monitor regularly, because rabbits and rodents aren’t the only pest that like sweet potatoes. Aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, thrips, and others can quickly get out of hand and stunt development. But be careful when choosing insecticides.
Insecticides with toxic residuals are particularly bad for root crops, because the residue can be absorbed into the roots. This also applies for stem crops, like celery and broccoli. Although fruiting crops absorb fewer residuals from their surroundings, it’s just healthier to go completely organic in your veggie garden. Even on heavily harassed sweet potatoes, organic vegetable gardening techniques using natural pest control and/or OMRI approved products work for me.
Last week I saw some aphids in one of my sweet potato pots. Aphids like to feed on the underside of leaves and on the growing tips. There were too many to wash off or crush. First I sprayed some insecticidal soap to knock the aphid numbers down. Then the next day, I released about 20 ladybugs to mop up the scragglers. Because the OMRI approved insecticidal soap is a contact killer with no residual effects, it can be used in conjunction with beneficial insects without fear of harming them. The ladybugs hung around feeding for a few days before they flew away.
The sweet potatoes are just now beginning their growth spurt. Soon they’ll be a mounding mass of decorative foliage. I won’t be able to check every leaf, but general monitoring will help control any insect problems til harvest-time in early October.
Just like there is no tomato as tasty as a homegrown tomato, there is no sweet potato as creamy and buttery as a homegrown one. If you have the space, it’s not too late. They grow fast during hot weather. With 3 months of summer left, anyone south of the Arctic Circle can still get some slips, pot ‘em up in a good soil mix, put ‘em in the sun, and harvest taters this fall. What’s good for sweet potatoes is also good for tomatoes, peppers, and squash. They all grow well in large containers and they all respond well to organic gardening techniques. With a little extra monitoring, small space gardeners can have containers of organic crops on their patio, porch, balcony, etc… from now til frost.
Get Out and Grow