Sweet potatoes rise in popularity

Staff writer

One of the frequently asked questions at Serendipity Gardens near Hillsboro last week was “when are the sweet potatoes coming in” and owner Jana Dalke’ s answer was “sometime next week.”

Warm weather and sunny skies stirred the gardening bug in many area residents’ lives recently, and judging from garden shop traffic, most were on the hunt for traditional standards like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers to plant in their gardens.

However, Dalke said she had quite a waiting list this year for sweet potato snips.

“I think with Sharon Boese closing her Garden Center in Hillsboro last fall I just have more people looking for those specialty items,” Dalke said. “When they come in, we will have four varieties of sweet potatoes available, but they will probably go fast.”

Dalke said she would make a run to Wichita to pick up Beauregard, Jewel, Puerto Rican, and Red Delight snips as soon as she gets the call that they are in this week.

Unlike regular potatoes which are cut and planted with eyes that grow into productive plants, or ornamental sweet potato vines that grow from plants, sweet potato vegetable starts are actually a stem with roots attached, called snips.

“Sweet potato snips grow best when it is warm,” Dalke said. “They cannot tolerate the cold and that is why they have been delayed this year.”

In the past, sweet potato snips have been available as early as May 1, but those who want to grow them have had to wait a bit longer this year.

“We had the ornamental vines early, but they have already sold out, except for a few dwarf varieties,” Dalke said. “People like them for decorative planting because they are very drought tolerant and fill out quickly.”

Dalke said ornamental sweet potato vines do produce an occasional tuber, but most people do not eat them.

“They actually are edible, but with ornamentals you have to be careful about what might have been put on them, like pesticides, chemicals, or fertilizer,” she said. “They have very pretty leaves, but if you want to eat sweet potatoes it is best to grow the snips.”

Sweet potatoes have gained popularity in the general public as a healthier alternative to white potatoes. Sweet potato tots are featured at Sonic restaurants, and many other fast food eateries offer sweet potato fries.

According to Foodreference.com, the sweet potato ranks number one in nutrition of all vegetables. Dalke said she didn’t expect sweet potato snips sales to overtake the traditional garden favorites anytime soon, but there did seem to be more of a demand for them this year.

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