The Sweet Potato Dig

This week I decided it was time to dig a few of the sweet potatoes and see how they were sizing up. With the weather report calling for seven straight days of rain, I was anxious to get them out of the ground if at all possible. The soil was already wet from a recent rain, and more rain would not make the digging any easier. The first few plants I dug looked promising, so I kept on digging. I am still recovering from a head cold that has slowed me down a bit lately, but it sure felt good to get out there and work in the garden.

I grew five varieties this year, two purple ones I am calling Carla’s Purple and Norma’s Purple, the orange-fleshed Hernandez, my old standby Beauregard and the tan skinned purple fleshed Okinawa. All total I planted 30 slips, set out about 14-16″ apart in a ridge of raised soil. The Okinawa variety is truly an experiment, as they take a long, hot growing season to produce well. I decided to leave these to grow as long as possible, and I will dig them later this month before frost threatens.

harvest of Beauregard sweet potatoes

harvest of Beauregard sweet potatoes

Beauregard typically makes big sweet potatoes here in our area. I got just over 25 pounds from them, for an average of 1.9 pounds/slip. That is lower than last years yield of 2.25 pounds/slip. However, the Beauregard was planted on the end of the row, and part of that area is new growing space as a result of my 2012 garden expansion. It is possible that contributed to its lower yield this year. But that is just a guess. I have seen similar results this year in the same general area of the garden, which tells me I probably need to work in more compost/organic material there next year


Carla’s Purple sweet potatoes

It is my second year growing the purple variety our friend Carla gave to me to grow. This year they produced right at 10 pounds from 4 plants, for an average of 2.5 pounds/slip. That is up considerably from last year’s average of 1.7 pounds/slip. These tubers were mostly long and tended to go straight down, often down into the subsoil. I broke a few, all the while thinking “why aren’t you growing in this nice soft ridge of soil I worked up for you?” Still, I was pleased with the results.

big sweet potato sticking up

big sweet potato sticking up

It is my first year growing the Purple variety given to me by Norma (Garden To Wok). I set out 5 slips of this variety, and the vines grew lush and long all summer, so I had high hopes for the roots. I was working my way down the row, and when I got to this variety I saw the first root that was sticking up out of the soil. That is usually a sign that a big one is waiting, and I was not disappointed.


Norma’s Purple sweet potatoes

I wound up with 15.5 pounds of Norma’s Purple, for an average of 3.1 pounds/slip. They were nicely shaped and fairly easy to find near the planting spot, which is always a plus in my book. There were not many really small roots either, which I think can be harder to use in the kitchen. I am reminded of Goldilocks when I think of the ideal sweet potato that is not too big, and not too small!

Hernandez sweet potatoes

Hernandez sweet potatoes

Hernandez is a variety I have grown in the past when I got the slips from Robin’s Nest, a local nursery where I also get my Beauregard slips. The last few years Robin has been unable to get Hernandez from her usual supplier and so I have not grown them. But this year I ordered Okinawa slips from Duck Creek Farms and I also ordered some Hernandez. The yield from 5 slips I planted was a little over 5 pounds, for an average yield of 1 pound/slip. The sweet potatoes were long and skinny, and nothing like the Hernandez I grew in previous years. In 2011, Hernandez out-performed Beauregard and produced 3.4 pounds/slip, but this year it was the least productive of the four varieties I dug.

large Norma

large Norma’s Purple sweet potato

The big root of Norma’s Purple sticking out of the ground proved to be the largest of that variety, and weighed in at 2 pounds 7.8 ounces. Which is a bit smaller than the whopper Daphne harvested last week, but still big. Bigger is not always better when it comes to sweet potatoes though, but I am not complaining about the size or the yield of this variety.

Beauregard sweet potato

Beauregard sweet potato

The biggest one of all this year turned out to be a Beauregard. It weighed in at 3 pounds 5.7 ounces. The shape is really unusual, with a big round section at the ‘top’ where it attached to the vine and tapering smaller as it grew down into the soil. It will be a bit harder to use one that big and with that shape. I am thinking it will wind up getting baked and served up when we have company over for dinner, since otherwise the two of us would have to eat on it for days.

closeup showing skin of Beauregard

closeup showing skin of Beauregard

Overall, the sweet potatoes were in great shape this year, with no vole damage like I’ve had in years past. The were a few roots where wireworms had eaten on them a bit, but otherwise the roots were pretty smooth and clean. I have no idea why the voles left them alone this year, but it was great to not have a bunch of sweet potatoes with teeth marks already on them! The purple varieties both did great, outproducing even my usually large and dependable Beauregard. The Hernandez was disappointing though, and I don’t think I will plant it again unless Robin gets her source back. I have no real expectations for the Okinawa variety, so if that one produces it will be a very pleasant surprise.

After harvest, I moved all the sweet potatoes down to the basement, which is the warmest spot we have to cure them. Ideally they prefer temperatures between 80-85°F and high humidity (85-90%), though home gardeners like me usually have to just do the best we can. I spread the potatoes out to a single layer and then covered them with sheets of newspaper to help keep the humidity higher. I’ll let them sit and cure for a couple of weeks before we do any taste testing. And I won’t clean them up any more until right before I use them. The total harvest of 56 pounds so far is the same as I got last year, with the possibility of adding a few more if the Okinawa plants produce anything.

We still need to dig the sweet potatoes at the Impact Community Garden. Those were planted about two weeks later than the ones here, so I think it makes sense to leave them for a bit longer, as long as cold weather doesn’t arrive. Based on current weather forecast we should be good for another week at least.

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8 Responses to The Sweet Potato Dig

  1. Dave's SFG says:

    Awesome harvest. I may try planting in a container next year if I can find some slips. Garden centers here typically don’t carry them, so I may have to mail order. By the way, SESE suggests using a small electric space heater near your potatoes to get the temps you need when curing.

    • Dave says:

      That is a great tip! I just set up a little electric heater down near the sweet potatoes to see if I can raise the temps a bit. The humidity is high enough (80%+), but the temperature is cooler than it usually is this time of year.

  2. Daphne says:

    I love Norma’s Purple sweet potato. I got some slips from her a few years ago and they always do well in the garden. I grow slips from them every year and I have to start them months later than the Garnets as they break dormancy very easily and grow so well.

  3. Margaret says:

    Those sweet potatoes are fabulous – I can’t even imagine a 3+pound sweet potato! I’m hoping to grow some next year – in pots like Dave. I just have to figure out how to do that – I didn’t even know what slips were until this year!

  4. As usual, I am in awe of your magnificent harvest–this time just sweet potatoes. Or yams, most likely. I grow yams in big fabric Gro-pots in our driveway, since we have such a small yard (4500 sq ft with 1700 sq ft house, deck, three-car garage, driveway and sidewalks taking up most of the space.) It is time for harvest here too, but given how little attention I paid the Gro-pots this summer. I am not holding out much hope.

  5. I am so impressed with your harvest of Sweet Potatoes! Daphne’s too were very inspiring. I hope I remember to start some slips next year and give it a try.

  6. Norma Chang says:

    Nice sweet potato harvest, hope you will do a comparison of the 2 purple varieties you grew and write about it. Looking forward to the results of your Okinawan SP. Mine is still growing in the ice chest.

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