While Colorado has plenty of warm, sunny days, what is doesn't have are nice warm nights. This effectively makes us a short growing season state. (think Minnesota with fewer mosquitos, less water and better scenery). But I had been experimenting with extending growing seasons with hoop houses, mulching, thermal mass, etc... and thought sweet potatoes would be a good test of my nature-cheating skills.
To start my test, I bought an organic garnet sweet potato from Vitamin Cottage in February and set it up to produce slips. By April I had plenty of healthy, good sized starts. Since I needed to buy the plants more time to make it through our short growing season, I set up some growing containers, painted them black to absorb more heat, and made little green house type tents to go over the top. I also added some 1 liter bottles filled with water and placed them around the starts. This set-up protected the plants through the weirdness that is Colorado in the Spring and I was rewarded with pretty good harvest all things considered.
Not bad for a first try! While I considered my experiment to be a success, I was not looking forward to coddling sweet potatoes again this year. With a full-time job, ducklings hatching and baby quail coming in, potato pampering didn't even make the TO DO list. I had also done some research over the winter and discovered there are actually several varieties of sweet potato specifically tailored to growing in colder climates.
I spent several months trying to find sources for these potatoes and had quite a hard time. While your typical seed store has the long season varieties, the short season potatoes are not as well known or as widely distributed. Sandhill Preservation Center carries some, but you have to order assortments. Plus their order form is confusing and I really wanted Korean Purple sweet potatoes, something they didn't offer. Fortunately I stumbled upon Abundant Acres. They had a great selection of early season sweet potatoes and I decided to give them a try.
By the time I discovered their website, they had already sold out of the Korean Purples so I settled for an order of Violetta and an order of Carogold sweet potatoes. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going get as far as quality, but I figured I would be brave and take a chance. Even though I paid in March, they do not ship until you are past the last frost date for your region. I finally got my order last week.
The Violetta plants were strong, thick and robust. Unfortunately the Carogolds looked like they had been stepped on by elephants. The leaves were nothing but mush. The box didn't look damaged, so I am not sure if there was a packing accident or if the weird hot weather got to them. I sent off an email to Pam at Abundant Acres with photos showing the damage and they replied immediately and sent replacements. Only a few days later the new plants arrived and they were in much better shape.
Overall the Carogold plants are more delicate than the thicker, more robust violettas, but both sweet potato varieties are in the dirt and now doing well. I am pretty excited about growing a sweet potato more suited to my climate and should get an even better harvest than I did from my garnet sweet potatoes last year. The customer service at Abundant Acres was wonderful despite the initial plant issue and I will definitely be ordering from them again. So remember folks, growing sweet potatoes isn't just for Southerners and Surfers and we can grow them up here too.