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Women in Ag: Making Sweet Potato Beds
Last week we experienced a first on our farm. We planted our first sweet potato beds.
Before we started growing sweet potatoes, I assumed they were planted like white potatoes. Pieces of white potato are planted directly in the field. This method does not work for sweet potatoes. Instead, vegetative cuttings are transplanted into the field.
Where do these cuttings, called sprouts or slips, come from?
Farmers keep seed potatoes from the current year’s crop. These smaller potatoes, about the size of my hand, are cured and stored. The seed potatoes we bedded last week were grown and harvested last season.
Seed potatoes can be bedded in a greenhouse or in field beds with clear plastic covers.
We now have seed potatoes sprouting in two greenhouses. The beds were made directly on top of the greenhouse floor.
The bottom sheet is a layer of potting soil. This specialized blend is a mixture of pine park, pearlite, sand, and peat moss.
Next, seed potatoes are poured into a single layer on top of the soil. Workers place each sweet potato by hand, making sure there is enough space between them for sprouts to grow.
Finally, the top sheet is added. A thin layer of the potting soil, no more than 1 inch, is poured over the top. If the soil layer is too thick, it will form a hard crust when wet, cutting off the oxygen supply to seed potatoes.
With enough sunny weather, the seed potatoes will start sprouting in about 10 days. In May, workers will cut the sprouts, which will then be transplanted to the field.
Not every sweet potato farmer grows their own cuttings or keeps their own seed potatoes for use the next year. In the past, we bought cuttings from other farmers.
The advantage of seeding a greenhouse is that the sprouts will be ready earlier than those of seed potatoes bedded in the field. We’ll be bedding those fields soon – another first for our farm.