Sprinkled with salt and pepper and served on the recycled pages of newspapers or magazines, piping hot sweet potato cubes are a delicious treat for students after the last school bell of the day. Sweet potato, scientifically known as Ipomoea batatas and locally known as shakar qandi, is an underground, enlarged storage root tuber.
Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious, starchy food options and are rich in beta-carotene, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre. While beta-carotene and vitamin-A ensure better vision and eye health, a combination of other nutrients ensures sweet potatoes help boost immunity and improve gut health.
Sweet potatoes have a spreading vine. However, in the absence of tendrils, which is a regular feature of a creeper, the stem wraps itself around nearby objects when growing, thus spreading to adjacent areas. The sweet potato belongs to the morning glory flower family and has beautiful pink coloured flowers that bloom in winter.
These flowers are similar to morning glory but are limited in number. Being an invasive plant, it is a popular option to cover up any empty space, since it forms a sort of vine carpet. The roots sprout from every possible node of the vine.
Growing a sweet potato vine will allow you to not only use the vegetable in your cuisine but will also beautify your garden with its distinctive flowers and leaves
The sweet potato vine can also be used as a decorative plant, since it boasts beautiful leaves with distinct shapes and patterns. It can be easily and quickly grown through the propagation of stems. The stem should either be planted with at least two nodes in the soil or the whole stem could be planted in a circular manner in such a way that the lower half is in the soil.
A pink flower which resembles morning glory
In another traditional method, a sweet potato is cut into several pieces and each piece is then suspended in a glass of water with the help of a few toothpicks. This immersed sweet potato piece is likely to give off a number of shoots. These shoots can be cut-off from the piece when these are about three inches long and can be used for propagation.
Vines can grow in pots but this limits their quantity and compromises the size of their tubers. It is highly recommended to grow the sweet potato vine in open spaces and into the ground to ensure a maximum harvest. It is a very strong vine which may invade cemented floors and walls through cracks.
It is better to grow the sweet potato vine in January and February and then again later in the month of August. However, in a city like Karachi, it can grow in any month due to the weather.
A sweet potato requires a great amount of daily watering in its initial stages, when it is spreading. Once it settles, and especially during the fruiting stage, it is recommended to limit watering, so that the surface soil dries off before the next watering schedule. Excessive watering may result in the roots and the fruiting tubers rotting. The vine also requires around four to six hours of direct sunlight exposure daily.
A hanging sweet potato vine
During the early stages of vine growth, there is an excessive nitrogen requirement for better foliage. Nitrogen-rich organic fertilisers, like well-decomposed cow manure and chicken manure, can be used. Blood meal may also be purchased from nearby nurseries and gardening stores.
There is also an equal soil requirement of phosphorus and potassium fertilisers. Phosphorus is added during the early stages of vine development and not later, because it takes time before the roots start absorbing phosphorus content from the soil. Bone meal is the best source of phosphorus fertiliser along with wood ash, but wood ash may disturb the soil’s pH value. Since bone meal is hard and is not absorbed readily, it must be carefully sprinkled and spread. Banana peel liquid is the best source for potassium.
Sweet potato vine is a hardy plant with barely any pest or disease attacks. However, to avoid potential spider mite attacks, fortnightly spray any organic pesticide, such as neem oil, on to the vine.
The sweet potato vine lives for and dies in just 12 months. Once this has occurred, you can start digging for the underground root tubers. The soil should be dug up very gently with gloved hands rather than using tools like the spade, because it may damage the sweet potato beneath.
In different cuisines, the edible leaves of the sweet potato vine are also part of the meal. Therefore, during the cutting and pruning of the stems, the collected leaves can also be used for different meals rather than being discarded into the compost bin.
There are more than a dozen sweet potato varieties, most of which can be distinguished by the colour of the peel. Sweet potatoes can be found in different shades of orange, brown, white and purple.
Please send your queries and emails to email@example.com. The writer is a physician and a host for the YouTube channel ‘DocTree Gardening’ promoting organic kitchen gardening
Published in Dawn, EOS, January 15th, 2023