Sweet potatoes growing in midair

Kinki University Prof. Takahiro Suzuki (R) and lecturer Akira Horibata examine sweet potato plants cultivated by children.

FUKUSHIMA, Japan - Sweet potatoes, usually planted in soil, are being cultivated in midair by children in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture.

Growing sweet potatoes suspended above ground not only avoids radioactive substances absorbed into the soil by the crisis at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, but allows the plant's big leaves to form a "curtain" to block strong sunlight.

The children are growing three kinds of sweet potatoes using plastic bags containing 15 liters of fertilizer on shelves about one meter above ground at 11 locations in primary schools, kindergartens and day care centers in Kawamata.

They plan to harvest the potatoes in October and determine which kind of potato is best suited for cultivating in the town.

A Kinki University project team supporting Kawamata's restoration is cooperating with the project. Prof. Takahiro Suzuki, an expert on biological response engineering, and university lecturer Akira Horibata who specializes in plant breeding, have given the children advice about where to place the plants and how to water them.