The sweet potato farming is believed to have originated in South America, specifically in the region that is now known as Peru. The sweet potato was then spread throughout South and Central America and eventually made its way to other parts of the world, including the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia.
Sweet potatoes are a nutritious and versatile crop that can be easily grown in a home garden. Here’s how to get started:
1.Choosing a Location for Sweet Potato Farming
Sweet potatoes are widely grown throughout Kenya due to their ability to thrive in a variety of agri-ecological zones. They prefer warm weather and require at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Choose a location that gets plenty of sun and has well-draining soil.
Here are some of the areas in Kenya where sweet potatoes are known to thrive:
Western Kenya: This region is known for its fertile soils and high rainfall, which make it ideal for sweet potato production. Areas such as Kakamega, Bungoma, and Busia are major sweet potato-producing areas in Western Kenya.
Nyanza: Nyanza region has a favorable climate for sweet potato production with moderate rainfall throughout the year. The region is known for producing sweet potato varieties such as Kembu 10 and SPK 004.
Rift Valley: The Rift Valley region is a major sweet potato-producing area in Kenya due to its favorable climate and soil conditions. Areas such as Baringo, Nakuru, and Uasin Gishu are known for their high-quality sweet potatoes.
Coastal region: The coastal region of Kenya has a warm and humid climate that is favorable for sweet potato production. Areas such as Kilifi, Mombasa, and Kwale are known for producing high-quality sweet potatoes.
Eastern Kenya: This region is known for its dry climate, but some areas with moderate rainfall are suitable for sweet potato production. Areas such as Machakos, Kitui, and Makueni are known for producing high yields of sweet potatoes.
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Sweet potatoes can grow in a wide range of soil types, but they thrive best in well-draining soils that are loose, deep, and fertile. In Kenya, sweet potatoes are commonly grown in various soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils. However, the best soil for sweet potato farming is sandy loam soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
Sandy loam soil is a mixture of sand, silt, and clay particles that is well-draining and has good aeration, which is essential for sweet potato growth. This type of soil is also rich in organic matter, which provides the necessary nutrients for plant growth.
Soils with high clay content may not be suitable for sweet potato farming since they tend to be poorly draining and can lead to waterlogging, which can cause the roots to rot. On the other hand, soils with high sand content tend to be too loose and may not retain enough moisture, which can lead to water stress in the plants.
It’s also important to note that the soil should be prepared well before planting to ensure that it’s free of weeds, rocks, and other debris that can hinder plant growth. Adding organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost to the soil can also improve soil fertility and structure, which can result in higher yields.
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3.Planting Sweet Potatoes
Choose healthy sweet potato seedlings: Sweet potato seedlings can be bought from a nursery or prepared by sprouting sweet potato vines. Select seedlings that are healthy, disease-free, and have well-developed roots.
Make ridges on the planting area by making mounds of soil that are about 20-25 cm high and spaced about 75 cm apart. The ridges should be oriented in the direction of the prevailing wind to help with soil drainage.
Cut the seedlings into 25-30 cm long pieces, making sure that each piece has at least three nodes. Plant the seedlings in the ridges, making sure that the nodes are covered with soil.
Sweet potatoes can be planted from slips, which are young plants grown from sprouts of mature sweet potatoes, or from seed potatoes. Plant slips or seed potatoes in the spring, after the last frost. Space the plants about 12 inches apart, and plant them 3-4 inches deep, with the sprouts facing up.
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4.Watering Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes need regular watering, but be careful not to overwater as this can lead to rotting. Water deeply once a week or more often during dry spells.
Sweet potatoes are heavy feeders and require regular fertilization. Use a balanced fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
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Keep the area around sweet potato plants weed-free, as weeds can compete with the plants for nutrients and water.
7.Sweet Potatoes Harvesting
Sweet potatoes are ready to harvest when the leaves begin to yellow and the vines begin to die back. Use a garden fork or shovel to carefully dig up the potatoes, being careful not to damage them.
Sweet potatoes can be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place for up to six months. Avoid storing them in the refrigerator, as this can cause them to become hard and woody.
Sweet potatoes are a delicious and nutritious addition to any garden. With a little bit of planning and care, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of this tasty crop.
Read also: How to start potato farming