I love living in a place where there are distinct and different seasons, and we definitely have four different ones here in Southern Indiana. I also look forward to each of those seasons, some perhaps more than others, and to eating and living seasonally. So when the calendar says it’s October, that gets me to thinking about all the things that I traditionally associate with October. Like digging sweet potatoes, for instance.
The sweet potato vines had been growing for over 4 months, so I thought it was time to dig up a few plants last week and see what buried treasure I could find underground. Recent rains had left the soil soft and easy to work, but I was afraid I might start losing the tubers to rot if we got more rain. The results looked good, so I decided to dig them all up while I had some warm and sunny weather on my side. And, the warm temps would help jump start the curing process, which is necessary to ensure the sweet potatoes will keep well during storage.
Last year was not a good year for sweet potatoes here. Hot and dry conditions all summer plus rabbits nibbling on the vines did not make for good yields. This year we had ample rain most of the summer, and new fencing kept the garden safe from the hungry bunnies. So I had high hopes for the sweet potatoes this year. Once I had them all dug, I brought them up to the house and let them sit in the sun to dry for a few hours.
After they had been in the sun several hours, I brought them in the house and weighed them before taking them to the basement for curing. Ideal conditions for curing sweet potatoes call for temperatures between 80-85°F and high humidity (85-90%), though finding those conditions is difficult for most home gardeners (including me). In our house, the basement is warm in summer and early autumn so it is the best place we have for curing sweet potatoes. For more information about sweet potato harvesting and curing, Purdue has a bulletin titled Dig Those Sweet Potatoes and Mother Earth News has an article called Harvesting Sweet Potatoes.
After weighing, I spread them out in a single layer and covered them with sheets of newspaper to help keep the humidity high around the tubers. The curing process takes a couple of weeks, and improves not only the keeping qualities of the sweet potatoes but also improves their flavor as the starches begin converting to sugar. Since the skins are quite fragile right after digging, I don’t do any cleanup on the tubers until after they have cured, and I never wash them until right before cooking. Right now the conditions under the newspaper are about 75°F and 75-80% relative humidity, so that should permit good curing.
The total haul for this years crop was 55 pounds of tubers. That came from 26 plants I had growing in a ridge of soil about 35 feet long. I grew two varieties this year, a purple one I am calling Carla’s Purple because the unknown variety of tubers were given to me by our friend Carla, and the ever popular Beauregard. Carla’s Purple yielded 10 pounds from 6 plants, while Beauregard weighed in at 45 pounds from 20 plants.
The purple ones were pretty uniform in size, long and slender. The skins were dark purple and free from any insect or rodent damage. I am looking forward to tasting these beauties once they have cured. Carla assures us they are tasty as well as beautiful.
The Beauregards were all over the place in size and shape, which is pretty much normal for this variety in my experience. And that isn’t a bad thing in my opinion, because the different sized ones can all be put to good use. The large ones are great for slicing and grilling, and the medium sized ones can be baked whole. The smaller ones and any odd-shaped ones can be cut up for roasting, soups and other uses.
Quite a few of the Beauregard tubers had been gnawed on by voles. These rodents are a big problem here, and no doubt our light silty soil makes it easier for them to tunnel. But after the sweet potatoes cure, the damaged spots should harden up and the tubers will still be edible. We will eat those first, cutting away the damaged spots right before use. It’s hard to see in the below photo, but if you look real closely you can see the tooth marks where the voles gnawed on the tubers.
Another thing I like about October is that it is apple season around here. Last week my wife and I made a trip across the river to Owensboro, KY to Reid’s Orchard to buy some apples. We wound up getting a half peck each of four different varieties: Jonathan, Winesap, Cameo and Golden Delicious. We will be processing most of these into things like applesauce, apple leather and dried apples, as well as eating them fresh.
To dry them I wash the apples, core them, and then slice into thin slices. They dried in the dehydrator in about 6-8 hours. We will seal them for use throughout the winter. I love to cut up the slices and add them to hot cereals like oatmeal, or add them to muesli or trail mix. They also make for great snacking as-is!
October also means it’s time to start cleaning up the garden and clearing out some of the summer crops. I’ve already replanted fall crops in the row where bush beans were growing, and the potato row got seeded with some daikon radishes for a winter cover crop. After digging the sweet potatoes I hauled the vines to the compost pile. I also cleared the row next to it which had bush squashes growing in it. I will get one of those rows ready for planting garlic later in the month, and the other one will likely get seeded with a cover crop, probably more of the daikon radishes. The compost bin was already half full, and now it is full to overflowing after adding all the sweet potato vines! I am digging finished compost from the other bin, and after it is empty I hope to fashion a better front door from another pallet.
I also found two more Kumi Kumi squashes in the garden. One was mature, but I got the other one while it was still green and tender. This squash has been a star performer in the garden this year, giving us over 30 pounds of summer and winter squash, with one more big one left on the vines. The two latest Kumi Kumi are in the below photo, along with a lone Brown Turkey fig. I think the mature one would make a good Jack-o’-lantern, don’t you?
That’s a look at what’s happening here in early October. To see what others are growing and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, where Daphne hosts the Harvest Monday series.