I planted the sweet potatoes here back in early June. I tilled up the bed first, amended the soil, then made a ridge of loose soil that is 8 to 10 inches high and about as wide. Then I set the transplants (rooted slips) in the ridge about 16-18 inches apart. All these figures are approximate, but close enough so you get the picture. You can read more about the planting process in a 2013 post I did on Planting Sweet Potatoes. I’ve planted them this way for years, no doubt following the instructions that came with the slips I mail-ordered way back when. After planting I mulch with sheets of newspaper covered with straw, which helps keep down the weeds and conserves moisture.
The sweet potatoes have been growing for 120 days now, and with a chance of frost predicted for this coming weekend it was time to start digging them. I decided to spread the digging out over a couple of days, since it tends to be somewhat labor intensive. I had looked at the bed last week and saw the sweet potatoes were pushing up out of the soil, which is always a good sign! This year I set out 28 plants, 11 of my old standby Beauregard, 9 of the Purple, and 8 of a new (for me) white-fleshed one called Bonita. In the below photo you can see one of the Beauregard potatoes pushing up out of the soil.
I like to cut the vines off the sweet potatoes before I dig them. Getting them out of the way lets me see how the sweet potatoes are growing under the soil. Then I use my hands to dig some of the soil away before I stick my digging fork in the ground. That way I can hopefully avoid spearing any of the tubers. This year the vines have rambled all over the place, including up and over the tomato cages in the next bed over. They will make a great addition to the compost bins.
In the past I’ve used either a digging fork or a shovel to dig up the tuberous roots. These days I usually use my digging fork. I try and dig in a few inches away from the main clump of tubers, and hope I don’t hear a crunching sound as the tines of the fork go in! Then I gently lift up with the fork to lift and loosen the tubers. Here’s where making that ridge of soil pays off. Hopefully most of the tubers have formed in the loose soil.
The tubers don’t always grow straight down, and they don’t always stay in a nice big clump. I think they are also quite a bit more fragile than regular potatoes, so I take my time and work slowly so as to do minimal damage to the tubers. You can see in the below photo that one of the tubers appears to have taken a u-turn before it headed down into the ground!
When I first started growing sweet potatoes I was surprised to find that they didn’t always resemble the ones I bought at the grocery store. Instead, they came in all different sizes and shapes. Now I know they are graded, sized and sorted before they make their way to market, just like other vegetables and fruit. And the ones with odd sizes and shapes wind up getting processed. Here at HA we find a use for all of them, big or little. The Beauregard in the below photo is the one that was sticking up out of the soil in the second photo. It is the size and shape I like for baking whole, dressed up only with a pat of butter or a dollop of yogurt. Skip the marshmallows and sugar for mine please!
I let to let them sit out in the sun for an of hour or so before I bring them inside to cure. Ideal curing conditions are 80-85 degrees with 80-90 percent humidity, though most gardeners (me included) don’t have a temperature and moisture controlled spot like that. Our basement is warm this time of year and that is where I put them to cure. I try and spread them out in a single layer, and run a fan for a week to keep the air moving.
After they’ve cured for a week or so, I move them into a room in the basement we use as a root cellar/pantry. It’s a bit cooler in there, and they usually keep for 6 to 8 months before they begin sprouting. We’ll let them sit for a couple of weeks before we eat any of them. Right after harvest they tend to be starchy and not very sweet. Curing lets the starches begin to turn to sugars, and the taste will be much improved.
I suspect I will be busy the next few days as I prepare for the possibility of the first frost this weekend. I need to harvest peppers, eggplants and other frost sensitive veggies, and bring a few plants in the house before then. I’ll weigh the sweet potatoes and tally up the totals for the next Harvest Monday. Based on what I have seen so far, it looks to be a banner year for sweet potatoes here, and I am happy about that!