March in North Carolina means it's time for sweet potatoes to be bedded.
Wait, sweet potates need a bed?
The short answer is, yes. As I've learned since we started growing sweet potates, planting sweet potaotes involves more than putting a seed in the ground.
Actually, we don't plant seeds, but "slips" or "cuttings". Where do they come from?
Many farmers use slips, or vegetative cuttings, that are cut from seed potatoes which have sprouted. Seed potatoes are the smaller size sweet potatoes, those that fit in my hand or are smaller.
Some seed potatoes are bedded in greenhouses and others are planted in the field.
This week I had the chance to visit Jones Farms, a local farm that specializes in seed potatoes and cuttings. They bed seed potatoes in one greenhouse and in the field, and also transplant vegetative cuttings from elite mother plants purchased from NC State University to make cuttings.
During my visit they were bedding a 100 foot greenhouse with seed potatoes. The seed potatoes were grown from first generation cuttings planted in the field last year.
The seed potatoes were harvested last year, cured and kept in storage. On the day of bedding, the seed potatoes are brought out of storage and loaded into the bucket on the skid steer.
The seed potatoes are brought into the greenhouse and dumped onto a layer of potting soil.
The seed potatoes must be thinned out to a single layer and as you can see, it's done by hand. This is an important step because you want a thick layer of seed potatoes but you don't want them to be stacked, or layered.
Next comes the top layer of soil. The soil needs to be about 1 inch thick. If it's to thick the soil will crust over when watered and the sweet potatoes won't be able to breathe.
The potting mix is a special blend of pine bark, pearlite, sand and peat moss. You can see from the photo below the first layer of soil covers plastic. The plastic isn't a requirement, but using plastic makes it easier to clean the greenhouse and you don't damage the greenhouse floor when cleaning up in July.
Here are the beginning and ending photos. I didn't make it in time to get a truly before picture, but you get the idea. The plastic barrier is up because there are two different varieities of sweet potatoes bedded in the greenhouse. Belvue sweet potatoes are bedded in the front and Covington are bedded in the back.
If we have sunny weather, the seed potatoes will start sprouting in about 10 days. The advantage of bedding seed potatoes in the greenhouse instead of the field is that the plants will be ready about 4 weeks earlier than outside beds.