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Yams - Grow your own

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Yams are a root crop that many people love. Technically they are not a true yam as they belong to the Oxalis family but in New Zealand we call them yams. The true yam is a potato-like tuber.

The sweet tubers are quite small, often about the size of your thumb, are pink-orange in colour and have a slightly shiny and ribbed surface. Other varieties which are sweeter, slightly smaller and coloured yellow, apricot and golden are available. New Zealand yams are very different from the tropical yams grown in other cultures. In America, and hence American recipe books, the vegetables known as ‘yams’ are in fact sweet potatoes like our kumara. Yams contain vitamin A, vitamin B6, fibre and potassium.


Available in red, gold or orange and pink each variety has a slightly taste.

Growing Guide:

Sprout yams in the spring and plant out once the fear of frosts has passed. Whilst yams are sprouting prepare the garden bed by digging to over well. Ensure the area where you will plant your yams receives all day sun. Yams need a well worked deep soil to thrive. They enjoy well rotted manure and soils well laden with well rotted compost.

Buy seed yams as you would seed potatoes from your garden centre. If you can’t find any you could try sprouting your own from yams you buy from the supermarket. Place seed yams on a tray and leave to sprout or a few weeks in a dry place. Once sprouts are 5cm long they are ready to plant out.
Plant in furrows – rows approx 15cm deep with sprout facing up.

As yams are a member of the Oxalis family you need to be aware that once you plant them in the garden you will probably always have them as they are very hard to get rid of. An alternative to growing them in the garden is containers or wine barrel.

As yams push through the soil mound them up like you would with Potatoes. They take approx 6 months to mature. Water well through dry periods and protect young shoots from slugs and snails.



Harvest once leaves start to die down or turn yellow in the autumn or early winter Yams are ready to harvest. Many prefer to let a few frosts affect the crop before harvesting. If the garden soil doesn’t become water logged over winter you can leave the crop in the garden for a few months.

How to use:

Use as a vegetable to accompany any meal mashed, boiled, roasted, baked or fried. Yams are also nice grated raw into salads and coleslaws. Microwave yams for children for 1 minute as a healthy snack alternative.