Can We Grow Sweet Potatoes in the Pacific Northwest?

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re attempting to grow sweet potatoes in the Community Garden. This is a first for us, and we’re not expecting much.

Sweet potatoes are typically grown in hot climates, like the Southern US. They also require a long growing season. Western Washington is a temperate climate, and we don’t have long hot summers. Good for me… not so good for sweet potatoes.

One of the members of the garden group, John, is really excited about growing sweet potatoes this year, and he’s been doing a lot of research. I ran in to John at the garden a week ago, and he filled me in on the sweet potato plans. He heard about sweet potato growers up in Canada, and figures if they can do it, we can too.

These two mounds are the future sweet potato beds.

We picked a place for them to go in the long beds at the edge of the garden. We mounded up the soil a bit, which, I am told, makes the soil warmer. John has been taking the temperature of the soil every day. He says the soil needs to be above 60 deg F (minimum for the day) to plant. The last I checked with John, we were still below that, and the days and nights haven’t gotten any warmer here since then, soooo….we might be waiting awhile.

John mentioned that, in order to warm up the soil, we could try to cover the beds with black plastic in which we cut holes where the sweet potatoes go. That would not only help to heat up the soil, but would also suppress weeds in the beds. Win-win. That seems like a no-brainer to me.

We have to get the slips in the ground soon. I believe he’s planting a variety called ‘Georgia Jet.’ (I could be wrong – he mentioned several varieties, and I might be mixing these up.)

Georgia Jets. Image from Mother Earth News

They have a relatively short growing season – 90 days as compared to 110-120 days of some other varieties – which works to our advantage here in the PNW. (Dad: You might argue that these are yams, not sweet potatoes, but I disagree. Exhibit A, Exhibit B.)

When I do a google search “growing sweet potatoes in the PNW,” I find a mixture of stories from people who had a good deal of success growing sweet potatoes (examples here and here), as well as some stories from people who had less success (here). Georgia Jet is mentioned frequently on sites discussing growing sweet potatoes in northern climates, such as Canada. The two examples that I cited that were successful used the Beauregard variety and an organic sweet potato from Costco.

Although, I won’t be around to enjoy (or mourn) our sweet potatoes harvest, I’m sure Nate will keep us updated. Right, Nate?