Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

 

Home Grown Sweet Potatoes

You prepared your beds, planted your sweet potatoes, and watched them grow into beautiful vines during the summer months. In the last few weeks you’ve noticed the ground around your plants start to bulge with the forming sweet potatoes. You are probably wondering when it will be time to harvest them and how it should be done.

Sweet potatoes are ready to harvest when the leaves start to turn yellow. Unlike regular (white) potatoes, you do not want to wait for the plant to die. The reason for this is that sweet potatoes will not die until they are frozen back by cold weather. You do not want your plants to freeze or get frost on them as this causes them to release chemicals that will cause the sugars to start to break down in the potato and shorten their storage life.

You will want to cut the vines off at the ground 2 or 3 days before you harvest your sweet potatoes. This will cause the skins to toughen and help increase their storage life. You can wait up to a week before you dig them if the ground is not wet or too cold but I wouldn’t wait any longer than that as they could start to rot.

To actually harvest your sweet potatoes, start well away from the plant and dig carefully toward the plant. This way you will not damage the outer laying potatoes. Dig with care not to damage the potatoes as this will shorten the storage life of them. As with anything else, a few are going to be damaged in the process. Just set them aside for immediate use.

Once they have been dug they need to be dried for 3 or 4 days before they are stored away. Lay them out in one layer in a place that is well ventilated and out of the direct sun. This will further toughen the skins so they will keep well.

To store sweet potatoes place them in an area that will not freeze or get too hot. They need to be kept away from moisture. They can be stored in more than one layer but I like to put something in between the layers like cardboard or dried hay. I have stored them successfully for 8 to 10 months in this way. Be sure to check them frequently to ensure they are staying dry and if any go bad remove them quickly to prevent them from causing others to go bad from contact with the bad ones.

 Sweet potatoes are tasty, nutritious, and easy to grow and store. They are also one of our favorite treats here on the “Ridge”, so we try to grow a lot of them. They are a hardy plant and anyone should be able to grow them with a little effort. If you didn’t grow them this year, plan on growing them next year. It isn’t too early to start preparing your beds now, and have them ready for the spring planting.

Here’s to a good harvest for you and me, too!

For information on growing sweet potatoes check out this article; Growing Sweet Potatoes .

Growing Sweet Potatoes

If you plan to grow sweet potatoes in your vegetable garden, there are a few things you

Growing Sweet Potato Slips

need to know. You do not plant them the same as regular potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are different in that they grow “slips” from the potato. Slips are grown by placing a sweet potato in an area where they will get diffused sunlight. Keep them out of the direct sun. We place ours on a bed of moist sand or soil to prevent them from drying out. They will start growing sprouts. These sprouts are called slips. One potato will grow many slips over a period of several weeks.

When the slips are 4 to 6 inches long they can be removed carefully by twisting at the base where it grew from the potato until it separates from the potato. The base of the slip is then placed in a container of water like a cut flower and left for a week or so until it grows roots. The slips grow roots quickly. The slip can then be planted in your vegetable garden. You can also buy slips ready for planting at many nurseries and feed stores as well as ordering them from seed companies.

Sweet potatoes prefer a relatively warm soil temperature of 70 degrees or so. They do best in loose soil to make their tubers, and they need moisture on a regular basis (especially when first planted and roots are developing).

I prepare the soil by first digging a trench 12 inches or so deep and lining the bottom with old hay (the older the better). I make the layer of hay 6 to 8 inches deep to provide a bed for the tubers to form and grow. Then, I cover the hay with 4 inches or so of soil.

I also mulch heavily around the base of the plants. This helps retard the growth of undesirable weeds and helps keep the soil moist allowing the plants to thrive. Sweet potato plants will grow vines which will also help shade the ground and preserve moisture.

Sweet potatoes are ready to harvest in the fall when the plant dies back. They are harvested by digging up the roots (tubers) from the layer of hay. Spread the potatoes out in the shade on a dry tarp or cloth to allow them to dry thoroughly before storing them in a cool, dry, and dark place.

They will keep all winter in this manner if kept on a layer of hay and covered with a little hay. They need to be kept dry and from freezing. You can store them in other mediums (dry sand, for instance) if you wish. I just grow my own hay and have it available.

Sweet potatoes are easy to grow and do not require a lot of care. You just need to insure they get enough moisture throughout the season and pull any weeds that happen to get through your mulch. They are a hearty plant and will thrive with just minimal care. You will be rewarded with delicious sweet potatoes that you can enjoy all winter. Be sure to save several to grow your slips for the next spring’s planting.

Besides sweet potatoes, this is also an excellent method for growing any other kind of potatoes in your vegetable garden except they aren’t all grown from slips. We grow all our potatoes this way with excellent results.

To learn about harvesting and storing your sweet potatoes check out this article; Harvesting Sweet Potatoes .

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