Sweet potatoes: The other orange seasonal standout

newspaperPumpkins may take center stage in fall decorations and desserts, but sweet potatoes are the real autumn stars when it comes to home gardens.

“Sweet potatoes are easy to grow,” said Christopher Mullins, Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources specialist at Virginia State University. “You buy the slips, put them in the ground and space each row about 3 feet apart. Within the row you want to space them anywhere from a foot-and-a-half to 2 feet apart. They’ll grow to cover the entire space, so if you can keep the weeds out for a few weeks, they’ll grow to block weeds from then on.”

Sweet potatoes are mostly grown and sold to the fresh market in Virginia. They were grown commercially on 120 Virginia farms in 2012, according to the Census of Agriculture. North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana are the top sweet potato-producing states, but the U.S. grows only about 1 percent of the world’s sweet potatoes. China accounts for 81 percent of global production.

Sweet potato plants are tropical, and Mullins said gardeners will want to wait until mid- to late June to put out their plants. They have a long growing season, from 90 to 110 days, and usually are harvested in October.

“Sweet potatoes don’t have a lot of insect pests, but deer like to munch on the plants. But they grow so fast that usually the deer won’t do much damage to them,” Mullins said. “Some good varieties for the home gardener are Beauregard, Covington, Porto Rico and O’Henry. They get to a nice size that you can use for pies or use them for baking potatoes.”

When it’s time to harvest, Mullins clips the foliage off a day or two earlier to make it easier to dig the sweet potatoes. They need to be harvested before they are damaged by the first frost, he said.

“Take a shovel or a pitchfork or garden fork and dig around each plant at a distance of about 18 inches. Pry the center of the plant up until you see some potatoes come to the surface. Keep working your way around the plant until you can pull them out of ground. You do have to be careful digging; they’re very delicate at this point.”

Mullins said sweet potatoes should be cured for at least a week in an environment that is about 90 percent humidity and temperatures of 85 to 90 degrees. “At that point the sugars start to mature, and you’ll see some scabbing-over and protective skin. And then they’re ready to eat.”

augusta free press
augusta free press news

UVA Basketball Fans!

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25. The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe, and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018 through to the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.

Dick Vitale on Team of Destiny: “This is a hoops story you will LOVE! Jerry and Chris capture the sensational and dramatic championship journey by Tony Bennett and his tenacious Cavalier team. UVA was Awesome Baby and so is this book!”

Ralph Sampson on Team of Destiny: “Jerry and Chris have lived and seen it all, even before my time. I highly recommend this book to every basketball fan across the globe. This story translates to all who know defeat and how to overcome it!”

Buy here.

AFP Business

As professional consultants, Augusta Free Press LLC provides clients in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia and beyond with marketing and PR solutions including website design, SEO, TV/radio, video work, branding and logos, social media and overall marketing campaign design and implementation. Augusta Free Press LLC was founded in 2002.

Web Design

Augusta Free Press has designed more than 800 websites for clients in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia. We take care of all facets of web design – visual design, layout design, content development and SEO. Short on staff? We’ll work with you to update your AFP-designed website in a timely manner or train your staff to make changes.

Marketing/Social Media Management

Augusta Free Press manages advertising campaigns for small- and medium-sized businesses across Virginia. You don’t need to hire a full-time marketing coordinator. Bring the experience of the Augusta Free Press team to work for you – for a fraction of the cost.

Graphic Design

Augusta Free Press will help you take your vision to the next level. From branding and logos to print materials, our team will work with you to develop products to showcase your business. From brochures and rack cards to full-color magazines or print/digital ads, we’ve got you covered.

Event Planning/Fundraising

Augusta Free Press will help you plan the best event for your organization. From an open house or anniversary to a 5K or Pay Per View, we can handle it all. Looking for training for your sales staff? We can help energize your employees or board. Need ideas to raise more money? Let us help you plan a successful event. Want to hold a news conference or need help with a press release? We can do that too.

Click here for more.