It is very easy to grow sweet potato plants. A detailed account of growing practices for sweet potato plants is given below:
Climatic Requirements: The sweet potato plant requires a long, warm growing season. Sweet potatoes are popular as a vegetable crop in tropics and subtropics. Since the plant is frost-sensitive, sweet potatoes are generally grown in these regions during frost-free periods. It grows best at a temperature range of 20-25 °C. Annual rainfalls of 750–1,000 mm are considered most suitable.
Soil Requirements: Well-drained, well-aerated, light sandy loam soils are the most suitable soils for growing sweet potatoes. Plant growth is best at an optimum soil temperature range of 20-300C. The plant thrives well in slightly to moderately acidic soils. Optimum soil pH range is 5.0 to 7.0.
Propagation: Sweet potato plants can be propagated by stem/vine cuttings, root cuttings, and slips. Tuber sprouts may also be used for propagation purposes. In tropical regions, vine cuttings are generally used for propagation purposes.
Field Preparation and Planting: Plenty of organic matter must be incorporated into the top soil at the time of field preparation. Farm yard manure or well-prepared compost may be incorporated into the top soil @25-30 tons per hectare. This will enhance soil fertility and ensure high yield of the crop. However, excessive application of manures and compost should be avoided as it will encourage unnecessary vegetative growth thus limiting tuber production. After enriching the soil fertility of the land/field, the field is prepared by sufficient ploughing and levelling. 2-3 ploughings are sufficient. Then the field is laid out into ridges and furrows. Planting is done on these ridges. Planting should immediately be followed by a light irrigation.
Manuring and Fertilizer Application: Manuring at the time of land/field preparation is sufficient for the crop. If necessary, organic manures may be applied during active vegetative growth phase of the plant. Generally, not much chemical fertilizers/synthetic chemicals are required for raising a sweet potato crop.
Irrigation: Sweet potatoes may be raised as a rainfed crop. However, if frequent irrigations are given to the plants during the initial growth stages, plants will get established in the field very quickly. As a standard, the water requirement of the crop/life cycle is estimated about 30 acre-inches.
During critical periods of plant growth, irrigation must be given. First irrigation is done soon after planting the vine cuttings (or slips/tuber sprouts). This will set the soil after the planting process. If there are no rains, two more irrigations are necessary within the 10 days of planting process. Irrigations must be spaced out at equal intervals. The crop gets established in the field within 10 days of planting if proper care is given.
Another critical period when irrigation must be given is tuber initiation stage. The crop is sensitive to drought at the tuber initiation stage. Tubers will begin to form 50–60 days after planting and irrigation is critical at this stage.
While growing the sweet potato plants, through soil management is absolutely necessary. The plant is highly sensitive to water-logging. Soil aeration is poor in water-logged soils and as a result, tuber development slows down thus resulting in poor quality tuber growth. All kinds of plant pathogens multiply in damp, humid soils. Fungal diseases such as tuber rots are very common in waterlogged soils.
Diseases: Sweet potatoes are not susceptible to any major plant diseases. However, sometimes stem rot or wilt and black rot are found in sweet potato plantations. Stem rot is caused by a fungus called Fusarium oxysporum f. batatas. In stem rot, the leaves of the infected plants become dull in colour initially and then yellowing of leaves (between the veins) begins; eventually, the diseased stems become blackened inside. This disease is spread through the soil and through the diseased tubers and/or vines. The best control measure is to plant disease-resistant varieties of sweet potato.
Insect-Pests: Some insect pests that are found in sweet potato plantations are the sweet potato weevil and the leaf-eating caterpillar. Sweet potato weevils and caterpillars may be effectively controlled by planting infestation-free planting materials. All the infested plant materials should be collected and burnt to prevent the spread of the pest infestations. Hand-picking caterpillars and destroying them can also control these pests. Adopting best cultural practices such as regular field monitoring, proper field sanitation measures, and practicing crop rotations may control the disease-pest occurrences up to a large extent.
Crop Maturity and Harvesting Stage: Depending on the type of cultivars (early, mid-season and late), the crop matures in 2 to 10 months. Some early varieties of sweet potatoes can be harvested as early as two months of planting. Late varieties are generally harvested after 8-10 months of growing.
As the crop nears maturity and the tubers are ready for harvest, leaves start yellowing and later dried leaves begin to wither away.
Harvesting Process: Since young shoots and leaves are used as leafy vegetables, they may be harvested from the established plants during any time of the year.
However, sweet potato tubers must be harvested at the correct stage of maturity. Generally, the crop is harvested by spades. Tubers should be dug out before the vines/leaves are completely dried and withered away. Freshly harvested tubers are cleaned, graded and stored in hygiene places before sending them to the markets.
Harvesting Time: In the tropics and subtropics, the mature sweet potato crop is left in the ground as such and tubers are harvested as and when needed for the markets or for home consumption. In temperate regions, sweet potatoes are harvested before the onset of the first frost.
Yield: Irrigated crop will give more yields than the rainfed crop. Yield as high as 30 tons per hectare is obtained from an irrigated crop. However, the average yield is estimated about 10 tons per hectare.
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