Years ago, I learned how to propagate multiple varieties of true yams (Dioscorea spp.) by dividing roots into pieces in winter or spring, dipping those pieces in ash, then planting them to grow new, full roots by the end of the year.
We put all the pieces into a big pot of soil:
Then we covered them with more soil and waited. When they woke up from dormancy, they’d start making shoots, like this:
One the vines started growing, we’d transplant them into a bed to grow until harvest.
Yet another trick is to just cut off the “head” of the yam, where last year’s vines grew, and then replant it to make a new yam by the end of the year.
See the tops of these purple yams that a reader grew in Tennessee?
You just cut off that head, with some flesh attached (an inch or three), and then replant it.
This video from Lillian’s Gardens shows how she does it:
Though this technique does not multiply yams like cutting them into minisetts does, it will allow you to regrow all the yams you decide to harvest for food. For instance, if you want to eat twelve yams, you can – and you get to make twelve new yams from the “waste” portion you cut off when processing.
We learned this trick in Grenada. There, farmers and wild yam foragers would often just cut off the top when they dug a yam and then put it back into the hole to grow a new yam the next year.
Putting the yam heads in pots through the winter makes even more sense for those of us in colder climates, since you can keep the pots in a frost-free location until it’s time to plant in spring.
It also makes sense if you don’t have a yam bed ready to place them in.
Yams are one of the best staple survival crops you can grow in Florida and the Deep South. That’s why they feature heavily in Florida Survival Gardening, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, and in the new, massively expanded and illustrated 2nd edition of Create your Own Florida Food Forest.
True yams are starchy, not sweet, easily replacing white potatoes in the diet while growing with less care and work.