Plant sweet potatoes to take advantage of the rains

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Sweet potatoes are becoming a popular food crop. Both the tubers and vines can be used as food and vegetables. The vines are nutritious fodder for animals. The tubers currently fetch very good prices in the market.

Sweet potatoes vine multiply easily and the vines grow quickly. They are both drought and flood tolerant. These characteristics keep the farm green in many seasons.

Land preparation

Land preparation can take the following steps:

• Start by clearing the fields. This includes removing crop residues or grass (debris).

• Plough and harrow the land.

• Prepare ridges and mounds (sweet potato grows well on ridges and mounds).

• Crop residue is useful in suppressing weeds. Early land preparation is necessary to create a deep loose bed ideal for the growth of tubers.

Advantages of planting in ridges

• Ridges are recommended because they provide more room for the growth of roots and sweet potato tubers. When growing on ridges mechanization is possible. Also, a farmer can grow more sweet potatoes for commercial purposes.

• Growing sweet potatoes on ridges also helps in soil moisture conservation and reducing soil erosion.

• Inter-cropping sweet potato with other crops is possible in the ridges thus enabling the farmer to diversify and earn more income. Cultivation in mounds is easy, doesn't destroy tubers, gives good yields and is extensively practiced in many areas growing sweet potatoes.

• It is recommended not to grow sweet potatoes on a flat bed because the resulting yields are usually low.

Planting materials

Sweet potatoes can be propagated by use of storage root or vine cuttings. Below are some planting steps to follow:

• When propagating by roots, the sets must be robust (healthy).

• The cuttings should not be planted deep into the soil to avoid rotting. These can either be covered with small amounts of soil or left as they are.

• The use of vine cuttings is the recommended practice for both subsistence and commercial production. The vines are preferred to roots for planting mainly because vine cuttings are free from soil borne diseases. It is important for the farmer after harvesting to leave some roots for planting during the next season.

Planting: Select clean, healthy vines (free from virus and pests) about 25 - 30cm long to reduce wastage of planting materials. Pieces from the stem apex (stem tip) are preferred to those from the middle and base portions of the stem. Where planting material is in short supply, middle and base vine cuttings may be used with little reduction in expected yields.

In drier areas with only one main rainy season, the availability of planting material is a problem. Farmers in such areas are advised to keep vines during dry season near water points on a nursery plot or under a shade. Alternatively, farmers can leave some tubers in the soil during the dry season. When the rains come, the vines will sprout and can be used for planting.

Planting methods on mound seedbed

There are three (3) major planting methods used by farmers in sweet potatoes growing regions:

• These are used to cluster of vines in one spot on the mound. Usually, 4 - 6 vines are planted.

• Use of 3 - 4 vines in single stand, planted at equal distance from each other.

• Use of two (2) vines, planted per stand at equal distant from each other.

The second method is the best compared to the other two in terms of storage, root yield and good quality sweet potatoes. The normal size of the mounds should have a base diameter of 30-45cm. The distance between the mounds should be 1m apart (from the centre of mound to the next).

Planting methods on ridged seedbeds

There are two (2) main planting methods on ridges which may be adopted:

• Farmers can either use single row of sweet potato plants in the middle of the ridge at 30cm between plants within the rows. The distance between the centres of the ridges should be 1m apart.

• Farmers can also use double rows of sweet potato plants on opposite sides of the ridges at 30 cm between plants, within rows and 50-60cm between rows.

The sweet potato vine cuttings should be planted at an angle with vine ends towards the centre of the ridge. One-half or two-thirds of the vine cuttings is placed beneath the soil.

Planting guidelines

The recommended number of cuttings per hectare is 27,000 cuttings/ha or (11,000 cuttings per acre). The depth of planting is 4-6 cm deep to allow for bumper harvest.

Time of planting

Sweet potato can be planted at any time so long as there is sufficient moisture in the soil. However, it is best to plant sweet potato early in the rainy season so that it will have sufficient water to grow. Where rainfall is biannual, two crops of sweet potato are possible to grow and harvest in a year.

Manure application

Farm yard manure can be applied to improve soil fertility and structure. This allows sufficient harvest and soil fertility.

Weed control

Weeds are a problem to sweet potato only during the first two months of growth. Hence, early weeding after the vines have sprout is recommended.

After this period, vigorous growth of the vines causes rapid and effective coverage of the ground surface and smothers the weeds present. Two hand weedings after planting are recommended.

First weeding is done within 2 weeks after planting and the second weeding is done two weeks after the first weeding when earthing-up is being done.

Source: Complete guide on sweet potato farming in Kenya - Helen Omondi Kaundo

For more information on sweet potato farming http://www.infonetbiovision.org/PlantHealth/Crops/Sweetpotato

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