All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

8 Tips for Success With Sweet Potatoes

In the Southeast, growing sweet potatoes is an excellent option for filling more of your pantry with homegrown food. While most people grow sweet potatoes for the tubers, you can also eat the leaves as a green! Plus, once established, they’re a low-maintenance crop. Sweet potatoes aren’t difficult to grow, but a few tips we’ll cover below can make your plants much more productive. 

Loosen the soil.

Sweet potatoes thrive in loose, well-drained soil. Especially if you have hard, packed clay soil or drainage issues, improving a bed before planting your slips is essential. It’s a good idea to add a lot of compost and other organic matter. I also like to loosen and lift the soil with a broad fork. 

You can also plant sweet potatoes in raised beds. Raised hills or planting ridges about 8 inches deep also works for areas with poor drainage.

For more information on planting, visit our Sweet Potato Growing Guide or previous blog post, Sweet Potatoes From Order to Plate.

Check your soil temperature and be patient.

Sweet potatoes need warmth to thrive. Waiting until air and soil temperatures are appropriate is key to good production. Plant your sweet potatoes when nighttime temperatures remain over 50°F, and soil temperatures are at least 60°F.

You can lay black plastic over the soil in the spring to help warm it and kill weeds. In a northern area, sweet potatoes can also be grown in greenhouses or low tunnels. These allow the soil to heat up faster and provide consistent warm temperatures for your potatoes.

Water sweet potatoes consistently and often.

Sweet potatoes need consistent soil moisture, especially as they’re getting established. When you plant your slips, water them well and keep the soil moist for at least the first week.

Regular watering throughout the season can improve the size and quality of your harvest. We recommend that plants receive about one inch of water per week throughout the season. Large swings in soil moisture (from very dry to very wet) can lead to splitting and cracking in the potatoes. Cut back on watering three to four weeks before harvest.Growing Sweet Potatoes (sweet potato vines)

Keep up with weeding.

Especially when sweet potatoes are getting established, it’s essential to keep them weed-free so that they’re not competing for space, moisture, and light. Be careful cultivating to avoid damaging shallow roots. 

Thankfully, after about six weeks, your sweet potatoes will take care of the weeds for you. Their vigorous vines will cover the bed and shade out almost all weeds.

Protect your plants from animals.

Deer and rabbits are fond of sweet potatoes. Protect your plants with fencing or other means, especially while they’re still small.

Rotate your sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are susceptible to some fungal diseases. Rotating your crops each year can prevent these diseases from flourishing in your soil.

Don’t over-fertilize.

It can be tempting to add fertilizer or manure to garden beds thinking that the more nutrients, the bigger and more potatoes you’ll get. Unfortunately, excess nitrogen can encourage sweet potatoes to put energy into vines and leaves and little into the tubers, leaving you with a scrawny harvest. Especially if you’re considering adding amendments, you should get a soil test before planting. 

Sweet potatoes generally perform well even with low nutrients, but you can side dress each plant with a shovel full of finished compost for a better harvest. 

Harvest sweet potatoes at the right time.

Harvest your sweet potatoes before soil temperatures dip down to 55°F. Colder temperatures will damage the sweet potatoes’ taste and storage ability. Generally, this is around the week of your first frost. It’s best to harvest on a sunny day when the soil isn’t too wet. 

Sweet potatoes are an excellent low-maintenance crop to add to your garden, especially in the Southeast. Follow these simple tips to ensure you have an awesome sweet potato harvest this year. 

Want to keep learning? Check out:

Sweet Potatoes, Potatoes, or Both? Decide for your garden.

Wellness Simplified! Herbalism From The Ground Up

We’re so excited to be able to carry one of our neighbor’s books! Krista and Skyler Rahm of Forrest Green Farm in Louisa County, Virginia, have just published Wellness Simplified! Herbalism From the Ground Up. Krista and Skyler designed this straightforward guide to help you connect with nature and learn to grow and use herbs in your everyday life. 

For context, I’m one of SESE’s writers and social media managers, and I had the pleasure of perusing a copy over the last week. Digging into herbalism can be tough and intimidating. I’ve dabbled in herbalism for several years and have read my fair share of herb books. Krista and Skyler have done and an incredible job of pulling together usable information in an easy-to-understand format for Wellness Simplified!. 

Gardening Basics

If you’ve read this blog often, you’ll know I believe that a productive garden starts with the soil. Krista and Skyler share my sentiments stating, “success in your garden relies on a healthy soil diet!” They’ve followed this up with crucial information about soil amendments, nutrients, and composting without sounding like a science textbook.

This first section provides several other essential gardening basics that we’re big fans of here on the SESE blog. Krista and Skyler cover the fundamentals of seed starting, transplanting, beneficial insects, companion planting, pest management, and even vermicomposting!

Herbal Preparations

From there, they delve right into harvesting and preserving herbs and recipes for herbal preparations. When you’re new to herbalism, understanding when to use different herbal preparations and even what they are can be challenging. I found this section especially helpful. 

The internet is full of herbal recipes. Bloggers will provide you with recipes for tinctures, elixirs, glycerites, and infusions, but unless you’ve taken an herbalism course, how do you know what those are, let alone how to use them appropriately. While a course may be great for those who can make the financial and time commitment, having a go-to guide on hand makes herbalism more accessible.

Krista and Skyler also provide an informative section on formulating, guiding you to go further than following others’ recipes on your herbalism journey. They’ve included a list of things to consider, like family history, dieting and eating habits, emotional feelings, and more, plus a step-by-step guide to creating a formula.

Wellness Simplified! Hibiscus Plant Profile (Photo from Forrest Green Farm)

Plant Profiles

Many herbal books offer “plant profiles,” a quick overview and historical use of herbs with no practical information. History is fun and sometimes contains valuable lessons, but it isn’t what I’m looking for in a modern herbal. Knowing that folks used fennel to ward off evil spirits in the past is great, but I want to know what I can use it for today.

The profiles in Wellness Simplified! offer the information you need to incorporate each herb into your practice. Learn how to identify, grow, harvest, and use 127 herbs from the humble lemon balm to the tropical moringa. The index in the back of the book will even help you locate plants by the problem they can treat. For example, search the index for dandruff and be taken to the page for Oregon grape!

Wellness Simplified! will be a great reference on my shelf for years to come. It’s packed with clear-cut, step-by-step information that you need to grow and use herbs. Grab the book here on the SESE shop, and check out Forrest Green Farm

Crops for Succession Planting

There’s nothing like meals with homegrown ingredients straight from your garden. Grocery store produce can’t compare in flavor or price. If your goal is to eat as much fresh food from your garden as possible this season, you’ll need to use succession planting. 

Succession planting means that you don’t plant all at once. For example, you can sow a patch of lettuce or salad greens every couple of weeks so that when some bolts, another batch will be ready to harvest. This method also works great with crops like sweet corn that mature all at once. Sow a block every two weeks to have sweet corn over a more extended period. 

Here in the Southeast, you can get several successions of many crops. Just check your estimated first frost date. Then look at a crop’s days to maturity and count backward. Note, when daylight hours are dwindling during the fall, you need to add on some extra days. 

Here are some of the crops that are ideal for succession planting:


Especially in the Southeast, collards can be grown for quite a long season. Here in zone 7a, we begin sowing collards on March 10th and continue until September 1st.

Sweet Corn

As I mentioned above, sweet corn planted simultaneously will all be ready to harvest at the same time. This method of planting is excellent if you want to freeze or can a bunch, but not ideal for fresh eating. In zone 7a, we plant can plant successions of corn from about April 21st through July 15th.Zinnias (succession planting crop)


Flowers can be succession planted too! Zinnias are one of the easiest cut flowers to grow, and sowing several successions can keep you in beautiful bouquets all summer long.


Succession planting may not be necessary for dry beans, but planting a few successions can be a good idea if you’re growing beans for fresh eating. Planting beans at different times can also help figure out a good planting time to avoid bean beetles. In zone 7a, we begin planting beans around April 15th. We sow pole beans until July 15th and bush beans until August 1st.

Summer Squash & Zucchini

If you’ve been gardening for a few years, you’re probably familiar with the gluttony of squash just a few plants can provide. To help mitigate this, plant just a couple of hills at a time and spread that harvest out! In zone 7a, we plant summer squash and zucchini from April 21st through July 21st.


Like summer squash, cucumbers can provide an overwhelming abundance if you plant a large patch. If you’re canning pickles, this is a great thing! However, if you want to enjoy the crunch of fresh cucumbers over a longer season, you’ll need to plant multiple successions. Succession planting can also help you get a larger crop even if you struggle with losing plants to Downey mildew and other diseases. Here in zone 7a, we’ll sow cucumbers from around May 1st to July 21st.


Beets thrive in cool weather, but you can still get several successions in. We recommend doing a few in the spring and a few in the fall. Fall beets are ideal for storage. In zone 7a, we sow beets during the spring from March 15th to June 15th and then again in late summer from August 15th through September 15th.Broccoli (succession planting crop)


Many gardeners think of broccoli just as an early spring crop, but with a little work, you can get multiple broccoli harvests throughout the season. Here in zone 7a, we can do a combination of direct sowing and transplanting. We begin sowing indoors on January 31st and continue until May 31st. We start transplanting out on March 15th and continue to July 15th. We also direct sow from March 10th through July 1st. Check out our post, Tips for Direct Sowing in Hot Weather for advice on sowing cool-season crops like broccoli during the summer.


Like beets, we sow turnips in the spring and again for our fall garden. In the spring, we sow them from March 10th through April 15th. In the fall garden, we sow them from August 7th through October 1st.

These are just a few of the crops well-suited to succession planting. You may also want to try carrots, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, and other vegetables. We even do tomatoes to ensure we have enough late tomatoes for our fall taste testings! Use succession planting in your garden to have smaller quantities of fresh produce over a longer season.