A few days ago I started an extremely fun project that will prepare me for the warm season. I started sweet potato slips. I took a few sweet potatoes (one white and two orange), cut them all in half, stuck toothpicks into the cut tubers about halfway through, and placed them in jars. In a few weeks they will grow roots and slips.
Once the slips have developed, I will remove them from the tuber, and root them out in a similar jar. When these slips have roots, and provided all threat of frost is gone, I will plant them out in a well-manured, well composted bed. Provided you do a decent job of amending the soil, you will probably not need to feed these plants. It wouldn’t hurt to give them a little compost tea a few times in the growing season.
A lot of people don’t realize that sweet potatoes are actually Ipomoea plants, otherwise known as morning glories. They are quite pretty, though they need a lot of room. Plant them out with marigolds if you want them to look even prettier, and the marigolds will help attract beneficial insects that help the sweet potatoes. Don’t plant with beets, carrots or potatoes. I usually just donate an entire bed to them.
It takes about 100 or more days to form complete tubers, if your soil is nice and loose. You can begin harvesting tubers anytime they are ready. However, make sure you pay attention to when the frost is upon us. Frost will damage tubers, so make sure you dig them up before that happens. When you do, let the tubers sit in the sun for a day then move them to a shady spot or indoors in a well-ventilated area for a week (that stays below 90 degrees). We call this “curing” the tubers and the better you cure them, the longer they will last. Also, be careful when you dig the tubers up. They are easily bruised. I use a garden fork, very gingerly.
If you cannot get to your tubers in time before the frost comes, make sure they are very thickly mulched with loose compost and/or straw. A light frost can be avoided this way.
Sweet potato greens are eaten mostly in Asian cuisine. The tips are removed for consumption and are highly versatile. They can be steamed, sauteed, or used in a variety of other ways. Consult an Asian cookbook for more ideas
Here is an interesting African recipe.
World-wide there are well over 6000 varieties of sweet potatoes (which include lots of wild varieties). Unfortunately in the states, we only see a very small amount of these. They come in various shades of creamy white, yellow-orange, tan, reddish-purple and red.
There are many varieties and I encourage you to experiment. You might start off just trying to produce your own slips from store-bought tubers. But remember that food diversity is important to maintain. I also argue that diversity makes life more interesting so if you have the room, order some slips. A great source is Duck Creek Farms in Oklahoma. Here is PDF link to their catalog.