How to Save and Grow a Compost Sweet Potato "Volunteer"


It was a surprise to see a sweet potato vine growing from our compost heap. Sure, compost piles get a lot of "volunteers" - plants sprouting from discarded vegetables. Tomatoes we've had. Squash too. But those are coming from seeds. A sweet potato is not a seed. Or maybe it's one giant seed. That's just weird.

Chef Iggy has this thing where he plays target practice with the compost bin. He likes to stand on the back deck, off the kitchen, and chuck vegetables into the compost, about 25 feet across the backyard. He only does it when he has a big, weighty vegetable. Like a squash. Or a sweet potato.

The birth of the sweet potato vine

And so, it came to pass that one summer day Chef Iggy chucked a sweet potato into the compost bin. And apparently scored a hit (his aim isn't always dead on). I have no idea why we discarded this particular sweet potato. It must have been pretty far gone, because Chef Iggy is a master at cutting off the nasty bits and saying, "Don't worry, it's fine!"

That sweet potato liked where it landed, and started growing. A month or so later when Chef Iggy went out to turn the compost bin, he discovered a happy little sweet potato vine. He didn't recognize it at first. He had to dig it up before he realized that the sweet potato vine was, in fact, growing and attached to an actual sweet potato.

Growing the sweet potato volunteer

Admiring the plant's volunteer spirit, Chef Iggy decided to transplant it to a small, unused corner of the garden where the haricot verts had fallen down on the job. Exit haricot verts, enter sweet potato.

I hadn't thought we could grow them because a sweet potato vine creeps along the ground like kudzu, covering everything. In an urban garden we don't have space for that kind of business. But this sweet potato vine found exactly the right place to spread out. It filled in this one-foot dead spot between the edge of the garden bed and the backyard fence. It choked out the weeds, and thus endeared itself to me.

Sweet potato siblings

We left the sweet potato vine growing there all summer, coaxing the leaves off the raised bed and onto that dead spot next to the fence. Sweet potato must have been happy because it put forth many leaves. And lo, before the first frost, it came time to harvest the sweet potato.

I dug it up, not sure what to expect, and found three sweet potatoes! The magic of gardening! Since Chef Iggy and I are only two people, this was plenty for a bounteous dinner.

On closer examination it turned out that the middle sweet potato was actually the original chucked volunteer. It had dings and rotten spots. It had given its life for its two siblings. We returned that original potato to the compost pail and feasted on the two side potatoes. And they were good.

The moral of the story is, when you have a compost volunteer, transplant it. And give thanks. It may end up being manna from heaven.


SpringPhaedra Hise