August 7, 2014

Of City Water and Sweet Potatoes

I have two types of sweet potatoes this year, Beauregard and Vardaman. I didn't plan on two kinds, but I have them due to something I might not have figured out if it hadn't been for a spontaneous trip to the feed store.

Early last spring I took a couple of nice looking sweets from last year's stored crop and popped them into wide mouth pint canning jars. I filled the jars with tap water and waited. Like other sweet potato gardeners, I planned to pull off the sprouts and root them in another jar of water for my homemade slips. I waited. And waited. And waited, but they wouldn't sprout. I changed out the water regularly but they just rotted in the jars. Very puzzling! It was so disappointing to think we'd have no sweet potatoes this year: no baked sweets with butter and cinnamon, no sweet potato french fries, no roasted veggies with sweets, no sweet potato honey pie!

Some weeks later I was on my way to town and happened to notice the sign at the feed store, "We have sweet potatoes." Considering the time of year that could mean only one thing, slips for planting. I pulled in and bought a bunch containing two dozen Beauregard sweet potato slips. I happened to mention why I was buying them, and the gentleman said he'd had another customer who had the same problem. Hmm.

Beauregard sweets. They produce long vines and sprawl everywhere.
During our 2-month dry spell, they wilted eventually, even with mulch. 

It immediately made me wonder if she had tried to sprout her sweet potatoes in city water too. Ours is so strong with chlorine that it's hard to take the smell that comes out of the tap. It's why we got our water filter. I went home, put two more of my stored sweet potatoes in filtered water, and sure enough. I finally got my slips!

My Vardamans are smaller because they were later going in. I like
this variety because they have excellent flavor and store well. They have
also tolerated the dryness better than the Beauregards from the feed store. 

So we'll have plenty of sweet potatoes to enjoy this winter. The goats love them too; I chop them up daily and add them to their feed. So glad I figured this out. Unfortunately we still use this water for backup irrigation (should we run out of rainwater), and for the animals. Needless to say, some serious discussion is going on about this.


Michelle said...

Wow. That is a LOT of chlorine, to stop a sweet potato from sprouting! I'm glad you figured it out and were able to grow slips from your favorite variety in the end!

Dawn said...

I wonder if that is why I didnt get any slips this year too, we have a lot of chroline and flouride in our water, well we did at the other house.
Will have to experiment next year with 2 lots of water and see if there is a visable differance.
I managed to buy a few slips and have them in a container growing, I am not expecting anything spectacular but a few would be nice.

Su Ba said...

Leigh, have you tried planting the sweet potato in potting soil or vermiculite. Just barely cover it or leave part of it above the surface. Plant the tuber on its side. I found that I got a lot more slips this way compared to the water method,

Strange that the water prevented the tuber from sprouting. Kinda scary. I wonder if they gas the sweet potatoes to delay/prevent sprouting like they do Irish potatoes. I stopped eating store bought potatoes for that reason. I did t want to eat treated taters,

Tami said...

So glad you noticed this! I've tried to sprout and had the same experience so I bought slips this year too.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! :D You cound not have timed this post of yours better as far as I am concerned! I am just starting to grow my slips now, well was trying to. I will change the water for the filtered water we drink and try planting others straight into pots of soil.
Do you happen to know if there is a right and wrong way up?

Leigh said...

Michelle, I would say this is still an assumption on my part, but from reading the other comments, I would say it's true!

Dawn, do let me know how your experiment turns out. I agree even a few sweet potatoes is better than none!

Su Ba, an interesting sprouting idea! I'll try it next year. I've never tried to sprout store bought sweets, but I'm guessing they do something to them under the guise of "safety".

Tami, thank you for that tidbit! The confirmation is coming in. I wouldn't have thought any more about it (other than be puzzled as to why my homegrown sweets wouldn't sprout) if it hadn't been for the conversation in the feedstore!

Rabidlittlehippy, so glad to help! I hope it's not too late for yours. I don't think there's a right or wrong end, the sprouts just grow toward the light.

Unknown said...

They look great! I leave mine in the ground over winter and they resprout (but then I don't get snow!). We are so lucky to have rainwater collection. I refuse to drink town water, and taken bottles of rainwater with me to the city each week!

Sandy Livesay said...


I take my sweet potatoes and place them in a basket, put the basket in a dark cool place. The potatoes produce slips from the eyes after they're about 1 to 2 inches in size, I cut up the potato and plant it. That's how I handle growing slips. I've never used the water process.

Your potatoes are growing really nicely.

Farmer Barb said...

Do you have a berkey? I got mine during hurricane Irene. Living on a well makes me worry about having enough electricity to draw up the well water. I am not one to have other people determining my future, but chlorine is necessary for large water systems. Have you tried letting the water sit out so the chlorine dissipates?

Leigh said...

Liz thanks! So far we've only used our collected rainwater for irrigation, although we do discuss filtering for other uses. Do you have details about your filtration system on your blog?

Sandy, another great idea. I wrap mine in newspaper for storage, but by spring find some beginning to sprout. I'll have to try this.

Barb, yes we have a Berkey; that was the filtered water I mentioned that finally got sprouts! Seems the tap water didn't work no matter how long the taters sat. Or maybe there was so much in the beginning that it did them in then!

Kris said...

I had city water my last house and yep, lots of chlorine. I regularly filled a couple of 5-gal buckets and let them sit at least 24-48 hrs before using them on plants. By then the chlorine had evaporated out. It did make a difference as I tried both straight from the tap and the aged water on plants. Glad you figured out your prob. Looking forward to you ultimate solution re your irrigation.

Meredith said...

We have well water, which I LOVE. When I'm in town with my dogs, they'll refuse to drink treated city water - they'd rather wait until we get back home!

Frank and Fern said...

I think your water discovery is very interesting, but what caught my eye is that you feed the sweet potatoes to your goats. So I have to ask some details. How small do you cut them up? What is the easiest way you've found to chop them? Do you cut them up in the house or out in the feed area? How much do you feed each goat? Is it daily?

I think that is enough questions for now. Maybe..... And thank you for sharing this. I wouldn't have thought of feeding my goats sweet potatoes.

We are trying to increase the things we grow for animal feed and one of the things I have pondered is a convenient place to cut up vegetables for the goats and chickens. Right now I am thinking of a chopping block on a work table in the barn so I can cut them up right there as I need them.

Thank you for giving me more to think about!


Leigh said...

Kris, good tip about letting the chlorine evaporate out. We like to do that for the water we give our critters.

Irrigation is a long term project. We're very happy with being able to store so much rainwater, but it's never enough! PVC pipe punched with holes works better than a soaker hose, so I'd like to expand on that too. I'd also like to utilize huglekultur in the beds more, as well as swales. The list is so long I wonder if we'll ever get it all accomplished, LOL

Meredith, a well was on our dream farm list. In the end, we bought this place, which has an old well but who knows where it is or if it's still wet. Very interesting about your dogs! But who can blame them.

Fern, with our goal of feeding our animals from our land, one of the things I've researched is what I can grow and gather to feed the goats. Would it be a shameless plug for my book if I quoted myself (LOL, well it's easier to copy and paste than write from scratch). From Chapter 7, "Food Self-Sufficiency: Feeding Our Animals" "Other things I offer: garden greens (collards, kale, turnip, beet, Swiss chard,
dandelion), root crops (carrots, beets, turnips, mangels, parsnips, sugar beets, Jerusalem artichokes), winter squashes & pumpkins, sweet potato tubers & vines, blueberries, comfrey, melon & citrus rinds. These add roughage, as well as vitamins and minerals."

I chop them in the kitchen because that's where my sweet potatoes and other produce are prepared and stored. Plus if I'm milking then the last thing I want to do is wash my hands. The amount I feed varies, depending on what I have available; on average a handful or two (they would like more). I like your idea of a work station in the barn, something to consider in our own barn plans. Size is small. I figure I can spread it farther with smaller pieces.

If you haven't seen it already, you might also be interested in my herb and veggie list for a homemade vitamin and mineral top dressing for goats, DIY Vitamins & Minerals For Goats.

Renee Nefe said...

we were told that for our fish we should allow the water to sit overnight on the counter before putting our fish in it. This is supposed to allow the chlorine to evaporate out. No idea if that really works or not, but we didn't kill the fish with it.

I saw online where a young girl had done an experiment with store bought vs farmer's market potatoes (don't remember if they were sweets or not) and she couldn't get the store bought to grow. scary!

Mom at home said...

The chlorine in the water is why my doctor told me to take a probiotic everyday. It is too strong and kills the bacteria in our gut.
Your sweet potatoes look great!

Unknown said...

I heard recently that some conventionally grown potatoes will not sprout because of the pesticides or the way it was grown.

Unknown said...

Thank you for popping over to my blog-BTW. If you ever have any time...I would love some pointers. How did you make your look so pretty? LOL

Leigh said...

Renee, I used to do that too when I had tropical fish. Boiling works too. Yes, scary stuff about the sprouting vs. not sprouting. As has been mentioned, they treat them so they won't sprout! Better for potato sales you know.

Mom at home, interesting! But it makes sense in light of everything we're discussing.

Holly, and that's why we should all grow our own!

And you're very welcome for the blog visit. I'm always happy to encourage anyone interested in homesteading, gardening, etc.

For the blog I just use the "Simple" template and add my own background and header photos. :)

Matt said...

That is really good information to have. I never thought about how tap water quality could affect my plants. Thank You for this post.

Madness, Trouble, Squish and Milkbone said...

I worked on sweetpotato for my PhD. You can plant the ones that you buy from the store, no problem - they will sprout. For commercial production we plant them early under black plastic mulch to warm up the soil. You can plant them in pots in a warm place also. Do not cut the roots before planting. The reason is that sweetpotato are modified roots, not modified stems (like irish potato), so the don't have eyes. They will only sprout from one end. They are very easy to grow. Beauregaurd is the most common sweetpotato grown in the US (about 80% of all production), so if you just buy genetic sweetpotato at a grocery store, that's what it probably is. But you can buy any roots in a grocery store, plant them in the soil and they should sprout (as long as it is warm enough)for cuttings.
As you can see, I love sweetpotatoes - they are delicious!

Madness, Trouble, Squish and Milkbone said...

OOps, I meant to say "generic" sweetpotato. Of course, all sweetpotatoes are "genetic" :-)

Harry Flashman said...

When I was a child we ate lots of sweet potatoes,because they were inexpensive. I'm afraid I lost my taste for them. I sure wish I known goats liked sweet potatoes back when I had my Nubians though.

Frank and Fern said...

Leigh, I have been working on growing more things for the goats minerals and feed supply. Much of what I am doing is based on your mineral list I read last year on the blog. Part of our summer and fall crops this year have been dual purpose - humans and animals. Things like cow peas,Cushaw squash, carrots, sugar beets, comfrey, turnips and sunflowers, to name a few. I also have sweet potatoes growing, I just hadn't added them to my mental list as possible animal feed.

I have the beginnings of a plan in my mind for a small (3' by 3' would be plenty big) area to chop up the vegetables for animals. I figured the pieces would need to be fairly small, especially for chickens, I just haven't figured out the least labor intensive way to do it. I have even thought of a heavy grater/grinder something that we could attach to a workbench, but keeping it clean could be an issue in the barn.

Thank you for the information. I have read most of your book, and I will go back and review the part you referenced here. I really enjoy reading that makes me think one more step farther than I have been able to learn so far. So, thank you for the motivation.


Leigh said...

Matt, hello and welcome! You know, most of my learning has been by experience. It's not always the easiest way to learn, but I learn a lot.

Cecilia, thank you for all that! Such great information. I may try planting some of my small ones in pots next year, just to try it.

Harry, goats love them! The vitamin A is good for them too. Maybe someday you'll find a sweet potato recipe you like.

Fern, I've been thinking similar thoughts about grinding/chopping things for the goats. I hadn't gotten so far as to think of a work area, so your idea is good for me to think about. Right now I just chop with a kitchen knife, but I agree about finding a less labor intensive way to do it, because eventually I'd like to replace grain with all homegrown feeds. It's nice to have someone else working on the same goal, we can benefit from one another's experiments and experiences!

Sarah said...


So glad that you're going to have your sweet potatoes after all. I can't imagine a fall or winter without them! I haven't ventured into growing them yet but hope to soon. The amount of chlorine in your tap water sounds suspect. Its a necessary evil but overkill can actually create more problems. Take care,

Bill said...

Another way to get slips is to bury the potatoes in some sawdust (preferably rotten) and keep it moist. That produces lots of slips. Not sure if your water would still be a problem but doing this outside might also give you some rainwater.

I didn't know goats would eat sweet potatoes. Good to know.

We're growing Beauregard and Maple Leafs. Looking forward to the harvest!

Your's look good. Hoping your harvest is bountiful!

Leigh said...

Sarah, I think our water has more chlorine than anyplace else we've lived. The chlorine smell gags you right out of the tap.

Bill, another great idea, thanks! I'd probably use rainwater for that. So glad we have the rainwater for irrigation, or most of it anyway.

Never heard of Maple Leafs! Even the name makes them sound tasty.

M.E. Masterson said...

Catchin up... interesting read. Will have to see bout growing my own next year...