How to Grow Sweetpotatoes
A year in the Life of a NC Sweetpotato
- Sweetpotatoes are native to NC and grow mostly in the coastal plain region. NC grows more of this low calorie vegetable than any other state.
- Sweetpotatoes are not started from seed, but are grown from cuttings called sprouts or slips. Some farmers start sprouts in a greenhouse, while others are grown in the field.
- Other farmers grow sprouts by “bedding” seed potatoes in March. This is done by placing the whole potato in the ground, covering them with a thin layer of soil and plastic.
- Sprouts will be cut and transplanted from the greenhouse or bedding field to a different field in May or June.
- Sprouts are planted in rows using a machine. The sweetpotatoes we eat will grow in this field. It takes approximately 90-120 days without frost to grow a sweetpotato
- Sweetpotatoes grow under the ground and are the root of the plant
- Sweetpotatoes are ready to dig 90-120 days after sprouts are transplanted. Starting in August rows are plowed and sweetpotatoes are flipped on top of the ground.
- Sweetpotatoes are graded or sorted according to their size by the worker in the field. The largest sweetpotatoes are jumbos and the smallest are canners.
- Sweetpotatoes have a thin skin which can be easily hurt which is why they are all hand harvested. Those washed and sold right after digging are called “green.”
- Most sweetpotatoes are cured. Curing changes starches in the sweetpotatoes into sugar, making it sweeter and the skin tougher. It takes 4-7 days of 80-85̊ temperature and 80-90% relative humidity to cure sweetpotatoes.
- After being cured, sweetpotatoes are stored in their boxes at temperatures between 55-60º F and 85% relative humidity. This special storage process is why sweetpotatoes are available 365 days a year.
- Sweetpotatoes are washed, sorted by size, and packed before going to market
NC farmers sell sweetpotatoes all over the world. You can find our state vegetable in many sections of the grocery store. Some are sold through the NC Farm to School Program and end up in your school cafeteria.
If you wish to grow sweetpotatoes and have further questions, please contact your local Cooperative Extension Office!