We had a frost two nights ago and although we had covered our entire garden, the cold proved to be too much for the sweet potato plants. We had covered the vines with sheets and when I uncovered them mid-morning, I noticed the tiniest bit of leaf damage. I knew it was soon time to dig the sweet potatoes, the leaf damage just put some urgency on the project.
If frost damages the leaves on a sweet potato plant, the damage basically travels down to the roots of the sweet potato, causing problems with storage quality. If your vines are affected by the frost, you simply have to harvest the roots.
This was our first year growing sweet potatoes and I truly wasn't expecting much. My hope had been to grow them in our new greenhouse, which we have yet to construct, so instead we covered the ground with black fabric and planted them in the warmest, sunniest spot our garden had to offer.
Here's the sweet potatoe vines to the right of some regular potatoes. The black fabric was covered with either the vines or some extra soil to hold it down at this time.
I had grown a few in containers, mostly for the vines as an ornamental plant, and harvested them first. I didn't expect anything at all, although I harvested several small, skinny and carrot like sweet potatoes. When we got into harvesting the main crop, we were pleasantly surprised. Lots of really good sized tubers came up with the vines, looking similar to what you'd buy in the grocery store. Digging around in the soil the tubers just kept coming, and most were a really good, usable size. For almost every vine we scored a really big tuber, with this one pictured below, probably being the largest.
We had ten plants in all and this is what we harvested.
Some things that likely helped were; the black fabric, really loose soil and really well aged manure from the previous year. Root crops don't really love manure that's too fresh, if spreading manure where root crops are too be grown, it's always suggested to spread it over the desired area the fall prior to planting.
The verdict? Sweet potatoes can definitely be grown in Nova Scotia, in the open garden and provide a substantial harvest. They've now earned a permanent spot in our garden.
Now I just hope the curing of the tubers goes as well as growing. They need to be cured at around 30 degrees for 5 days, during which time they'll develop a second skin for storage.
I bought my sweet potato 'slips' as rooted cuttings from a seed supply store. When I lost two of the cuttings after setting them out in the garden, I bought a few more from the Antigonish Farmer's Market. Our local Nusery, Pleasant Valley Nurseries, also had sweet potato plants this year. Look around, I'm certain you'll find them!