By Debra A. Parker
Norman Transcript / CNHI News Service
NORMAN, Okla. —
It all started in the spring, when Billy and Alma Prater planted sweet potato vines around the flagpole in the front yard of their Norman home.
The couple enjoyed the plants during the summer, and now, with approaching cold, they decided to clean up around the flagpole “so the yard guys can get in there.”
While digging up the plants, Billy Prater made quite a discovery.
“He dug up a sweet potato that was just huge,” Alma Prater said. “He had to pry it out of the soil.
“After he got it out, it was so big, we took it in to the bathroom scales to weigh it,” she said. “It weighed 17.4 pounds.”
Prater’s wife said he also dug up another large potato and a few “the size you’d see in the grocery store.”
That begged the question: Can you eat the 17-pound spud? Do ornamental vines produce edible sweet potatoes?
A quick call to the Cleveland County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension office got an answer to the questions.
“I know they can get large like that,” said Heath Herje, agriculture educator for the Extension Service. “I don’t think they’re toxic, though.”
Herje then sought a second opinion, saying, “This is really Tracey’s field.”
“I don’t think you’d want to eat them,” said Tracey Payton-Miller, horticulture educator for the Extension Service. “Mainly, they just wouldn’t taste good.”
Payton-Miller said although the potatoes may be edible, they likely would be bitter.
“It seems the prettier they are on top, the more bitter the potatoes are,” she said.
Rather than eat the monster sweet potato, Payton-Miller suggested growing new plants for next year’s garden.
“Cut a piece of the potato that has an eye,” she said. “You can even do this with potatoes you buy at the store.”
She went on to explain that from each eye, a plant would grow a slip that would become a viable plant.
“You could get them started now and let them overwinter inside,” Payton-Miller said. “You could also probably overwinter the tubers in a box or crate, in a dark and cool, humid area. Then you could plant them come spring.
“It could even save a little money next year.”
She suggested starting the plants in water “like kids do at school, or you could put them in soil. You just have to keep them warm through the winter. With the sunlight we have here, they’ll thrive.”
Back at the Prater home on Mountain Oaks Drive, life has gone on after the brief excitement of digging up a 17.4-pound sweet potato.
“The young boy across the street loved our vines, so we gave him one of the small potatoes,” Alma Prater said. “His mom said they plan to try to grow some plants from it.
“But I don’t think I’ll be babying one through the winter,” Alma Prater said, indicating that buying fresh plants next year would be just fine.
Parker writes for The Norman Transcript.