The sweet potato is a dicotyledonous plant hailing from the Convolvulaceae family, which includes bindweed and is the same as the morning glory family. There are several types of sweet potatoes or Ipomoea batatas. Its tuberous roots are large, starchy, sweet-tasting, and used as one of the root vegetables; chefs also use greens from the young branches and leaves for cooking.
The most common types of sweet potatoes found in grocery stores have deep orange flesh and copper skin, though other sweet potato varieties have different colors. Even at grocery stores, many mistake sweet potatoes for yams. Is a yam the same as a sweet potato? No, they are not the same. In fact, true varieties of yams are huge dry tubers from Africa and Asia. True yams usually have dark brown skin and white flesh.
Sweet potatoes are a low-maintenance crop that’s easy for most growers as long as you have plenty of sunlight and warm soil; they are a tropical plant, after all. Sweet potatoes are resistant to drought and heat and susceptible to few pests and illnesses.
Sweet Potato Types to Grow at Home
Though sweet potatoes are typically a Southern crop, numerous cultivar types will flourish in the North when grown in raised mulched beds with black plastic. North Carolina is the number one sweet potato-producing state in the United States.
Different types of sweet potatoes have a unique color, constitution, and flavor. Whether you’re looking for tasty sweet potatoes for mashing or more robust tubers for roasting, understanding sweet potato types will help you select the right crop for your garden.
Sweet potatoes may taste like dessert, but they’re rich in nutrients and antioxidants. Because of their phytonutrient-rich darker color, the deep purple flesh species has more antioxidants than bright orange sweet potatoes.
The tubers have a low lipid content and a low glycemic index, making them an appealing carbohydrate for the health-conscious.
Sweet potatoes are susceptible to frost, so they do best when planted in full sun a few weeks after the predicted last frost date for your area when the soil is warmer. With many varieties of sweet potatoes to choose from, most growers produce a bountiful harvest of these tasty tubers.
Common Types of Sweet Potatoes – Beauregard
The Beauregard is one of the most popular sweet potato types seen in supermarkets, hailing from Louisiana. The flesh is bright orange and has red skin.
This sweet potato is the sweetest tasting of the orange varieties. Its slightly stringy, soft, and moist texture makes it ideal for mashing into a puree for pies or mashed potatoes or frying into yummy fries that keep their shape.
Can you freeze mashed sweet potatoes like the Beauregard? Yes, mashed sweet potatoes hold up well to freezing.
Varieties of Sweet Potatoes – Jewel
Jewel varieties of sweet potatoes have pale orange skin and a less powerfully sweet flavor than Beauregards but feature in many similar recipes. These vegetables with orange flesh retain moisture well and may be boiled, baked, or made into casseroles. The Jewel sweet potato does not keep well when stored in the refrigerator.
Red Garnet Sweet Potatoes
This sweet potato type’s deep reddish-orange skin and bright orange flesh have a savory flavor and are the least sweet of the cultivars. They also have a higher moisture content, resulting in a softer texture which is excellent for mashing into a puree for baking, roasting, or adding to a dessert with additional sweetener.
Covington Sweet Potatoes
The malty sweetness of the Covington is identifiable by orange-colored skin with speckled dark orange patches. The texture is moist and creamy, making it a popular choice in the South for casseroles and desserts or just slicing and roasting.
Sweet Potato Varieties – O’Henry
This sweet potato has brown skin and cream-colored flesh and is slightly sweet with a denser and firmer yet still creamy texture. Mashing, roasting, baking, and adding to soups and stews are all possibilities for the O’Henry sweet potato.
Other Different Types of Sweet Potatoes
Different types of sweet potatoes include the Japanese White with its dark purple skin, the Okinawa or Hawaiian sweet potato notable for its purple flesh, the Stokes Purple, Porto Rico sweet potatoes, Hannah, Batata, and more.
Many types of sweet potatoes are available to the home grower, and each has distinct characteristics and advantages to bring to your garden. Choose the one which correlates best with your intended uses for your harvest, or mix and match and enjoy various types of sweet potatoes all grown in your backyard.
Growing Sweet Potatoes at Home
Sweet potatoes are grown from cuttings called slips rather than seeds. Slips are sprouts from sweet potatoes that have already developed. Planting sweet potatoes slips should take place 3 to 4 weeks after the predicted last frost when temperatures have reached at least 55°F overnight.
The key is to plant slips early enough to have time to grow, but not too early for an unexpected late spring frost to destroy them. Make sure you have enough growing season left before you start planting. Most cultivars will mature in three to four months, or 90 to 120 days.
Choose a sunny location with well-drained soil. Sweet potatoes aren’t fussy, although they like sandier soil and require lots of air space for their roots to extend.
Consider raised beds if your soil is rocky, clay, or compacted and mix in 8 to 10 inches of organic matter. Use soil that’s fertile and well-drained. To assist in building loamy soil which holds moisture, add compost and fertilizer.
Companion planting is also helpful when growing sweet potatoes or any other crop. Learn what to grow with sweet potatoes to deter bugs and bring more beneficial insects to your plants.
Shake well, and let the solution stand for about 15 minutes, or until all powder dissolves, then spray directly on the soil. When the soil temperatures in your local area reach about 60°F, plant the slips on a warm, overcast day.
Remove the lower leaves and only keep the upper ones. Set the slips 12 to 18 inches apart, deep enough to cover the roots and stem up to the leaves. The nodes along the stem are where the sweet potato vegetables will grow. To ensure the plants root well, use a liquid fertilizer and water generously for 7 to 10 days.
Whatever sweet potato types you choose for your home garden, the result is tasty tubers versatile for many dishes. Start harvesting your potatoes at around three months after planting by examining the soil. Gently dig to see if any potatoes grew from your vines.
Sweet potatoes must cure for ten days in a warm location after harvesting, but before curing your potato, don’t wash it. The curing process aids in converting carbohydrates into delicious sugars.
These sugars are the molecules needed to make your potatoes sweet. Remember, sweet potato greens are also edible. Prepare them similar to spinach or collard greens.
Sweet potatoes are a delicious crop with a good yield. Sweet potato storage works in a root cellar or it’s also simple to store the vegetables they produce for two to three months in the refrigerator and even longer in the freezer.
If you find that you have sweet potatoes growing roots when in the basement or root cellar, use those potatoes to start new slips.
Whether you’re a brand new grower or an experienced horticulturist, the many varieties of sweet potatoes mean there’s something for everyone. Enjoy delicious starchy and sweet vegetables with the bonus of edible greens when you add any of the many types of sweet potatoes to your garden.
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