My sweet new babies have arrived – now what?

Experimenting in the garden is all part of the fun – and my new babies have arrived!

A few years ago I had a go at growing a peach tree, or maybe it was a nectarine, in a pot, then planted it when it seemed mature enough.

These were what I bought several relatives for Christmas and are little bullet-sized compact bundles of seeds which, when they sink in and mature, will provide an area of flowers which are lovely by bees, a garden’s favourite pollinators.

This year’s experiment will be sweet potatoes. My wife went on a diet to minimise carbohydrates, calories and starch, so switched from eating potatoes to sweet potatoes. I’m not going to show her that advice I found on the internet which says sweet potatoes are high in calories and starch. What does that sign say in the doctors’ surgery? “Your Google search is no replacement for my seven years at medical school.”

Anyway, having enthusiastically printed out how to grow sweet potatoes from the Royal Horticultural Society website back in the autumn and pinned it to my noticeboard, I decided I wouldn’t try to grow them from an old sweet potato.

So the time finally came a month ago for me to order the grow bags and sweet potatoes from Marshalls.

Several people have told me you can’t grow these semi-tropical vegetables in Britain, because we have too many cold days. I can’t say I have ever seen them in garden centres, but they are becoming ever more popular on our plates and the RHS and other websites – and sellers – clearly disagree. Mail order was the way to go.

Today they arrived!


Now what?

Advice on Marshalls’ website was, if the leaves have drooped, to put them in water for 24 hours in a cool place. Well, they didn’t looked drooped and the roots seemed pretty good, but even so I wasn’t taking any chances, so into a tub of water they went.

The essential question I wanted to know was, do you “earth them up” like normal potatoes (continually put earth over the green shoots until you can earth up no more! In bags or in the ground). I couldn’t find the definitive answer to that on the RHS website or at Marshalls, both of whom quite rightly pointed out that these were not – despite the name – related to potatoes at all. I found the answer by Googling it and came across the answer on chef Jamie Oliver’s website, courtesy of his gardener. In hindsight the logic would be that as the question wasn’t answered, it wasn’t the method. But as a first time grower of these things I needed the comparative explanation.

The answer was crucial to what I do next with these fresh plants.

The advice, widely given, is to pot them in a warm place and maybe keep indoors because they need more warmth than ordinary potatoes.

Indoors? That’ll get me in trouble. The greenhouse will have to do. It’s pretty humid in there. They need to establish for a couple of weeks and not be planted outdoors until any chance of frost has gone. Then the recommendation is under a cloche (which currently house newly-planted out beetroots), or in a warm place.

Grow bags is where I intended them to go all along (there are plenty of images online which suggest people grow them in these. I might also try one in the ground), so plenty of compost in the bottom first and then plant them near the top, hoping the roots will shoot down and produce the sweet potatoes.

I’m hoping that’s how it works.