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Go kumara go

Go kumara go

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If you struggle to grow decent crop of spuds in the summer then why don’t you try sweet potato, says PHIL DUDMAN, and now is the time to get planting.

When you live on the coast, hot humid conditions and heavy summer rainfall can really play havoc on a crop of spuds – they just get diseased and fall over.

Sweet potato (or kumara) loves these sorts of conditions and they are rarely troubled by disease. It’s such an easy crop to grow.

They just need two things… a reasonable amount of space – it can be quite a rampant creeper – and a long growing season – they need at least 4 to 6 months of warm weather.

To get started, just find a sunny spot and dig in plenty of compost and old manure. Then mound the soil in narrow rows along the length of your bed – that’ll give the tubers a nice deep soil to develop.

To get your first crop underway, you just need to buy a sweet potato from your grocer (I like the purple ones best) and plant it just below the soil surface in the corner of your patch. In a week or three, you’ll see little sprouts beginning to appear. When they get to about 15cm long, snip them off and plant them as cuttings about 50cm apart. Keep them moist and pretty soon, roots will form and your sweet potatoes start to grow.

They do like a regular drink when it’s dry. As far as feeding goes, steer clear of high nitrogen fertilisers. They tend to encourage too much leaf growth. Instead, just sprinkle a little sulphate of potash about every so often.

The runners can get a little rampant so just prune them off every so often. You can use the fresh tips in salads and stir fries – much like you would water spinach or kang kong (a close relative) – and they are a good source of antioxidants.

Plant now and you can look forward to a bountiful harvest from April onwards.

Pic: Phil Dudman