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Troup County Extension agent: How sweet it is — sweet potatoes

Brian Maddy

Contributing columnist

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Most of us are very familiar with a loaded sweet potato and how good it tastes with just the right amount of brown sugar and butter. It’s a staple at most barbecue restaurants and steak houses. Sweet potato fries and casseroles have also become big hits.

In the 1920’s it was on the dinner table of most homes in the Southeastern states. Sweet potatoes were easy to grow and store for long periods. After the Great Depression it fell out of favor due to its association with hard times. It’s made a comeback and now it’s a delectable delight at most restaurants.

Sweet potatoes were originally from South America and spread rapidly throughout the world through trade. They are very popular in Polynesia and the Pacific Rim countries.

Tropical countries grow the “staple” type, which are higher in dry matter and starch. Americans prefer the “dessert” type, which are higher in sugar content, have orange or yellow flesh and are softer in texture.

This Native American plant is a relatively easy to grow vegetable that is high in calcium, potassium, vitamins A and C and contains small amounts of iron. Sweet potatoes are not related to white potatoes or yams.

What comes in a can and are called yams are really sweet potatoes. They are high in fiber and are a healthier alternative to white potatoes, which have a high glycemic index which means that your blood sugar increases rapidly. Sweet potatoes are preferred because they are slower to metabolize starch.

Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family and are actually perennials grown as an annual. They are propagated vegetatively through vine cuttings called “slips.” They are cut from the previous years crop. Space the slips three feet in the rows. Allow plenty of room for the vines to spread out. Select a disease resistant variety.

Sweet potatoes can be grown in a wide variety of Georgia soils and requires less nitrogen than other crops. It does respond to supplemental potassium.

The soil pH should be between 6.0 and 6.5. As always, take a soil test to get the correct fertilizer recommendation. Over-fertilized plants may produce too much foliage. They also require one inch of rainfall per week for optimum growth. Rotate your plantings to prevent a buildup of wireworms and root knot nematodes.

Any irrigation should be stopped about four weeks prior to harvest. Sweet potatoes should be dug when the tops begin to die back and before the first frost. After harvest, air-dry them for several days in a shady location when temperatures are in the 80 to 85 degree Farenheit range. They can be stored in the kitchen area for up to six months. Make sure the temperature does not fall below 55 degrees.

One thing to watch out for though is overeating sweet potatoes. Daniel Boone reportedly died from colic after eating too many but he was 90 years old at the time.

What’s going on in Extension?

Jefferson Street Market begins Saturday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon at 625 Jefferson St. just off of Dallis Street.

Nov. 17: Troup County Cattleman — 7 p.m., Ag Center; dinner starts at 7 p.m. and is $6. Program at 7:30 p.m. Guest speakers: Pam Wilkes and Rory Richardson of the NRCS on conservation programs.

Nov. 19: Timber Growers Meeting — 7 p.m., Ag Center. Ben Jackson will speak on developing a forestry management plan.

Tree seedlings can be ordered from the Georgia Forestry Commission, 706-845-4122.

Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup County Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–noon and 15 p.m.