Growing Sweet Potatoes in Melbourne – Part 2

Look what’s happened to me again.  I say again because exactly the same thing happened last year.  A long forgotten sweet potato decided to shoot while abandoned in the back of my cupboard.  Cool huh?  Like last year I plan to turn this happy accident into a growing opportunity.

My plan is to leave this one in the back of the cupboard until July/August then separate each of the four shoots from the tuber and place them into a glass of water until they form roots.   This worked really well last year.  Roots formed within a week or two at which point I planted then into 10cm pots filled with potting mix.   I can’t think of any reason why you couldn’t skip the rooting in water stage but I do quite like rooting plants in water occasionally so the kids can see what’s happening.  I kept the seedlings inside the house until the weather warmed up in October and I could see roots creeping out the bottom of the pot.  I then planted them in the garden.

Of course relying on lost potatoes in the back of your cupboard for shoots is probably not the best planning in the world.  If you haven’t forgotten to eat a sweet potato but still want to grow them Garden to Wok shows you how to get them to shoot by putting the tubers into glasses of water.  Mine grew from normal supermarket bought sweet potatoes.  I think the variety that are generally sold in Australia are Beauregard so I presume that is what I have been growing.

The other propagation alternative is to grow them from cuttings.  Sweet potatoes strike incredibly easily, in fact mine layered (when the stem puts down roots upon contact with the soil) themselves in many places - where ever they had come into contact with the ground.  At the points that they layered themselves they also began to form tubers – although these weren’t nearly as developed as those at the initial planting site.  Sweet potatoes are pretty vigorous, mine grew pretty much anywhere I let them.  Next year I think I will trail the vine up and over something (hopefully a chicken house if we ever finish it) rather than just letting it run rampant over the ground and up the fence.  Although the below picture doesn’t really show the extent of its spread you can see it both attempting to engulf my lemongrass and heading skyward up the fence.

My sweet potatoes were planted out at the very end of October so they had about 6 months growing time.  They didn’t have anything like full sun but what sun they had was warm afternoon sun, and the place I planted them is pretty sheltered.  Before planting I prepared the ground with cow manure and then mulched thickly after planting.

My understanding is that its best to avoid feeding them with too much chook manure as its high in nitrogen and they will put on leaves at the expense of tuber growth.  From each plant – I only planted 2 – I have probably harvested about a kg of tubers.  Not a sensational return but still pretty exciting.

I have harvested one plant completely but left some of its layered stems in place.  The other plant I have left in after bandicooting a couple of large tubers from it.  Sweet potatoes are perennial but it will be interesting to see how it deals with a Melbourne winter.  My feeling is that; if any remaining tubers don’t rot over winter then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t send up new shoots in Spring.

Normally on Thursday’s I post a recipe but I’m struggling to find the time during the day to both cook and photograph a dish.  Hopefully I will get a chance this weekend and will be back to recipes this time next week. 

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42 Responses to Growing Sweet Potatoes in Melbourne – Part 2

  1. Dave says:

    FWIW I never put any fertilizer on my sweet potatoes. They seem to do quite well on average garden soil. I like rooting them in water, too. The vines are so easy to root!

    • Liz says:

      It took me ages to work out what FWIW meant but now I have I feel very young proud and hip (although I suspect I just undermined all that by saying it…..). Thanks for the tip – definitely worth mentioning.

  2. At least your way you can be sure they have developed roots too can’t you?

    • Liz says:

      Yes which for me is a big plus, I have a tendency to give up on things too quickly and if I can’t see the roots I have been known to ‘tug’ too hard on the plant to check if it has any…..

  3. Daphne says:

    I’m going to try to grow them this summer for the first time. We have such a short season here I just hope to get something.

  4. Leanne says:

    I like this post, I won’t ever do it because I don’t like sweet potato, but I love the way you write about stuff. I like putting things in water to see if they will grow and I often have glasses or jars full of stuff on my window sill. I find it really gratifying to get something to grow. Love the photos as well, the sweet potato is a very strange vine, which I didn’t realise before.

  5. Diana says:

    Our sweet potatoes tubers did not rot during winter. In fact it is much sweeter after winter. You can bandicoot all the tubers and left them growing through winter. They are very hardy and their roots are much stronger than potato. The sweet potatoes are making way to our weed list. They pop out anywhere if the debris is planted back.

    • Liz says:

      Isn’t that interesting – I’m looking forward to seeing how mine do – I don’t know why I never see them in nurseries for sale because they definitely seem to grow well here too.

      • Nina says:

        I grew sweet potatoes last year. You know where I got the punnet? KMart! I had no idea what to do with them (but couldn’t resist) and I didn’t expect them to come to anything,which they didn’t, really, but I got a few. I planted them under the roses (!) out the front as I had no other room. I might give them another go and try to grow them properly. I had always thought they needed a more tropical climate but apparently not.

        • Liz says:

          I thought they would want it warmer too but perhaps we are warm enough. It will interesting to see how much the crop varies from year to year.

        • Ross says:

          Hi Nina I to grew sweet potatoes for the first time last season and I’m looking forward to October to get started a gen.
          Ross from the Adelaide hills.

  6. I am still learning to like sweet potatoes: a very unusual taste for me. I tried it in sweet dishes and in savory, not working for some reason. Maybe I haven’t tried the right dish with it yet?

    • Liz says:

      Or maybe you just don’t like them – my kids aren’t big fans unless they are pretty heavily disguised.

  7. Louise says:

    I’m inspired. I love sweet potato and have never thought of growing them. Your last few entries on growing them in Melbourne inspires me to try in Sydney which theoretically should be a better climate for them.

  8. Hi Liz,

    I wish I could grow sweet potatoes here but I don’t think it is warm enough and probably too wet!! All the best with yours.

  9. Michelle says:

    I’m in Canberra (-4 overnight last night) and I found a sprouting sweet potato a few months ago. I put it in a large pot with potting mix in a small greenhouse type thing and OMG it’s growing. Finding it very hard to find information about growing them. I have lots of top sprouts from the one potato. Now just waiting to see what happens. Any suggestions?

    • Liz says:

      Hi Michelle, They need at least 4 months of warmth to produce tubers (probably closer to 6 in Canberra), so I guess it depends how long ago you planted them. If it was over four/five months ago then I would have a bit of a feel around below the soil to see whats happening. You may just find some tubers have grown already. They are herbaceous perennials (ie the foliage dies down in winter) so even if its hasn’t grown any yet then it may next year if and I do mean if it survives the winter. They don’t like frost. One thing you could do is take some cuttings from it now and keep them inside for winter and then plant them again in Spring when its getting a bit warmer – your greenhouse should give it some protection but it may or may not be enough. Not sure if this answers you question – if not then please let me know and I can try to be a bit mroe specific. Incidentally I would be interested to know how you found my site – I’ve had a few new people recently which is fabulous and would love to know how they found me?

  10. Michelle says:

    Hi again. I planted the sweet potato in April (I think – I stuck a label next to it). I bought a “baby” green house from Bunnings (frame with mesh and plastic over it) and so far so good. I also have tomatoes in there. I might strike a couple of the sprouts for indoors. Was thinking that I could bring the whole pot inside lol. The green house protects the plants from frost but they still get the cold.

    btw I googled “growing sweet potato” and voila there you were.

    thanks again

    • Liz says:

      Good old google – thanks for letting me know. Mum and Dad live in a cooler climate to me and they too have a greenhouse and you’re right about it offering frost protection but not cold – they lose things in their greenhouse that survive without protection here in Melbourne. I think I would definitely sprout a couple of back up, just in case.

  11. YMC says:

    Hi, do you happen to know where I can buy Japanese sweet potatoes here in Melbourne?

    I imported some from Sydney and tried to grow them in Winter, placing the potato into a pot. Beetles unfortunately ate them up. I wish I had eaten them instead as they were very expensive.

    Should I plant them only in Spring?

    I used to eat Japanese sweet potatoes when I was living in Singapore and they cured my stomach ailments.

    When steamed or boiled, their flesh turns golden and they taste like chestnuts.

    I bought ones produced in Vietnam but they tasted bland.

    http://www.culinate.com/articles/produce_diaries/sweet_potatoes

    • Liz says:

      I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help regarding where to buy the Japanese sweet potatoes in Melbourne. If you do acquire some I would try sprouting them first before planting – should stop the beetles eating the tubers before they get going if nothing else. http://gardentowok.com/ has some good tips on how to get them to shoot in water (for some reason I can’t copy the page url so you will have to search her site). I haven’t tried that method as just leaving them in the cupboard for awhile works for me. They start shooting in the manner of a potato and then I put the shoots in water to grow roots. These are then potted up and last year I planted them out in late Spring – they had been inside on a windowsill up to that point. I will be interested to see if the ones I left in the ground survive the winter – from all accounts they do in Adelaide so I’m a little hopeful they will here too. So in a nutshell yes to only in Spring – they need a nice long period of warmth to grow tubers and they will die back in winter (although hopefully not completely). I’d love to try the Japnese version they sound amazing – let me know if you find anywhere selling them. I’d probably start by asking a local restaurant where they source theirs.

  12. Yauming says:

    Hi. I found that they do sell them. But they’re not cheap.

    Another thing to note is that – apparently – Japanese sweet potatoes did not originally come from Japan but from South America. They arrived in Japan only in the 15th century and the Japanese have happily claimed them as their own.

    There are two varieties. The Okinawa and the normal Japanese sweet potato. The Okinawa also know as the Hawaiian has tan skin and a purple flesh. It is supposed to be sweeter and more packed with vitamins than the normal variety.

    The Japanese sweet potato has purple skin and white flesh – turning golden when cooked.

    Both are very small in size (the size of a baby’s arm) and incredibly tasty. They taste like chestnuts. And have an extremely high content of anti0xidents, vitamins and anti-cancer nutrients. My problems with irritable bowl syndrome were cured by eating this on a daily basis.

    I boil or bake or roast mine (never fried) and they taste like manna from heaven.

    I did find two sites which sell them but they aren’t cheap.

    http://www.australiangardener.com.au/index.php
    and
    http://www.diggers.com.au/

    One problem is the identification of the Japanese sweet potato which goes by other names other Japan – and they are sometimes referred to as yams.

    • Liz says:

      Thanks for the info – that is really useful. Now I have something of a dilemma as I really want to try them, they sound just amazing!

  13. Yauming says:

    You should!!! I think one of the joys of gardening is growing something which you cannot obtain easily (or cheaply). Its very healthy and delicious to eat as well.

  14. Shirley Hill says:

    I have just discovered your site,and would like to share some info. I grew up in New Zealand and Kumara (sweet potato ) are a part of the staple diet. We did not treat them as a perennial and the slips ( rooted shoots ) were planted out in the Spring. InApril
    the best of the harvest were kept for shooting the slips. The method was to plant the tubers on a bed of damp sand and then cover with more sand, then throw a couple of wheat bags over them till about end of August. We used a couple of old cast iron baths, kept exclusively for this purpose Come Spring there would be literaly hundreds of young
    kumara shoots spearing up towards the sky. We planted by the moon and the slips were always planted 3 days before the full moon.We would gently pull these out and bundle them into lots of 30. They were planted out into the prepared ground,being pushed into the hole so the young root was in a figure ” j ” position with the bent part facing the East. We always had bumper crop with plenty to share.
    We planted 3 acres of kumara and a hard shelled Winter Squash ( ” Kumi Kumi ” )
    every year,. These stored well into next growing season, but that is another tale on it’s own. We also grew green beans which were salted in earthenware crocks.

    Today I live in Brisbane and I still grow kumara, and kumi kumi ( from Eden Seeds)although different varieties, I also salt some beans, bottle tomatoes
    tomato relish and other veg and fruit.
    I discovered recently a white skinned purple kumara which cooks up a deep purple and is so sweet. These days I shoot my kumara in a glass on the windowsill, so have
    started one ready to plant out.
    I hope this helps you out and wish you Good Harvest.

    Incidently these tubers make wonderful house plants. Just keep up the water and they’ll hang down so gracefully. They also help clear the air and put out more oxygen into the rooms.
    I have one at least 3 yrs old and still going strong.

    • Liz says:

      Thankyou so much for sharing your fascinating experiences. 3 acres is a lot of sweet potato and winter squash. The damp sand technique sounds perfect. I definitely plan to give it a try next year. Making a figure J with the roots and facing the bent part East is interesting – is their a rationale behind that approach? I ‘ve never eaten salted beans, are they good? The white skinned purple kumara sounds like a great find – I will have to keep an eye out.

  15. Shirley Hill says:

    I forgot to put in, sweet potato end tips can be eaten,stirfried or steamed as a young green. Delicious, also good in salads. Use the tender end tips before they get too bitter.

  16. Glen says:

    How did they go over the winter? getting and come up again?
    I chucked one in late the year before last just because i thought it was better than chucking the growing sweet potato in the back of my cupboard away, I got to eat plenty of leaves. The leaves are a great spinach alternative, but it was far to late in the season to get any sweet potatos out of them. I was hoping they would pop up again the following spring, but it seems mine didn’t last the Melbourne winter :(

    Ill get some in a glass of water tonight to try again!

    • Liz says:

      The cuttings I rooted in pots in late Autumn and put in my mini greenhouse over winter seem to have survived – they don’t look super happy but nonetheless they are starting to put on some new growth. The tubers I sowed in pots and then put in the same green house have yet to shoot but it may still be a little early (or they may have died). I reckon its still a bit early for them to be outside yet so you never know yours may still reappear.

  17. julie says:

    Hi , I love sweet potato roasted ,steamed, mashed or cooked inthe microwave and then split and tuna, butter cheese and salad added .I bought a plant yesterday I fertilize all my garden beds with worm castings , blood and bone and dynamic lifter is this going to mean i will have high nitrogen levels and they wont grow successfully ?

    • Liz says:

      That sounds delicious. I think they should still be OK but I’m not completely sure – I’ve never had issues using dynamic lifter and I think/hope the nitrogen in the blood and bone slow would release slowly enough to not be an issue. Adding worm casings as well might be a little much but not having experimented with different levels of nitrogen and growing sweet potatoes I’m not sure how it will impact tuber development. I would have thought you will get a lot of greens though and although I’ve yet to try them a lot of people rate them stir fried. I would love to know how your crop does.

  18. Mike says:

    I did a Google search on “growing sweet potatoes in Melbourne” and arrived here. I just saw a few plants in Bunnings and thought I’d put ‘em in a new patch I’ve dug over and see what develops in the next 4 months.
    Thanks for the tips above!
    Mike

    • Liz says:

      I hope they do well for you Mike. I’ve been really pleased with mine and I’ve yet to grow them in the really productive parts of my garden.

  19. Lisa says:

    Hi Liz,

    Did they survive over the winter? How is your crop going now? Can you give us an update?

    oh and I googled ‘growing sweet potatoes in melbourne’ and here I am.

    I have a tuber that’s sprouting and I’m trying to work out what to do with it – do I leave it sprouting in the dark? Cut slices up with the shoots and put in water or plant it now and try to protect it from the frost? We had a lot of frosts last winter, I’m in the North of Melbourne, on the edge of suburbia – any advice would be great!

    • Liz says:

      They did survive the winter and are growing happily. I will harvest in about May I reckon. I had mine in a cold frame greenhouse for most of winter and they got through fine. Our winter was pretty mild though and we don’t get frosts. I have found they do survive for quite a while sprouting in the dark but I’m not sure about 6 months. I think I would cut slices and put them in water then once they shoot pot them up. You could then protect them over winter and plant them out in Spring. It sounds a bit long winded I know but I don’t think they would have enough time to develop decent sized tubers if you planted them out now. If you can’t protect them over winter then perhaps a long stay in that cupboard is in order. Either way you shouldn’t have too much trouble sprouting more next Spring if these ones don’t work out.

  20. JOHN WESTWOOD says:

    I searched growing kumara in Melbourne and found this site..

    You can use kumara in a curry , like potato , or in addition to potato.. Dont know there effects of carbs but there would be plenty of fibre :)

    Kumara mash is good too or again mixed with potato.. make fritters … okonomiyaki japanese pancakes ..kinda.

    I guess they would go well in a a chunky stew or broth too

  21. Carl J Sorensen JP says:

    Liz I have just found the exact surprise as you, one large sweet potato with about 18 shoots growing from it. I have cut it in half & given it to a friend, from your website via googled, I will cut it into 1/2 inch slices & see how I go getting some roots growing from it. My son & I love sweet potato we have been slicing it & BBQ it as chips, quite delicious, many thanks for you input & advice, Carl (Melbourne)

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