Getting Up the Sweet Potatoes

We harvested our sweet potatoes just ahead of the freeze.  Because the spring and early summer was so rainy and wet, we planted fewer this year than we normally do. Nevertheless it was an all-day affair.

Sweet potatoes are delicious and super-nutritious.  They grow well in the heat of the summer and store easily.  I consider them an essential homesteading food.

The process starts at the end of April, when we take some of the sweet potatoes we harvested the previous fall and cover them in sawdust (preferably composted).  We keep the sawdust moist and soon the potatoes will begin producing sprouts that we call “slips.” Around the first of  June we pull up the slips and transplant them into the garden.  It’s important to water the slips thoroughly when they’re planted so they’ll take root.  After that they shouldn’t need watering at all.

Deer eat sweet potato vines like candy, so it’s necessary to find some way to keep them out. We’ve been lucky using portable net fencing, energized with a solar-powered battery.

We try to cultivate once to suppress weeds until the plants start vining well.  Once they start growing they’ll spread out and smother most weeds.

We usually aim to harvest ours around Halloween.  A little frost won’t hurt them but it’s important to have them out of the ground before a freeze.

The first step is to pull off all the vines.  This year we added ours to the compost pile.  If our pigs had still been here, they would have enjoyed feasting on them.

Vines for the compost pile

Vines for the compost pile

Some critter, I'm guessing a rabbit, has been chewing on these

Some critter, I’m guessing a rabbit, has been chewing on these

We grow a lot of them, so we use a tractor and potato plow to dig up the rows.  For small gardens a digging fork will work fine.

Plowing them up

Plowing them up

The good...

The good…

...the bad

…the bad

...and the ugly.

…and the ugly.

We lay the potatoes out and let them dry out in the sun for a few hours (so this is a job best done on a dry, sunny day).  Then we gather them all up and spread them out on a tarp in our basement to cure.  Ideally they should be cured in warmer temperatures, but we don’t have a place to do that.  We put them in a place where they’ll receive direct sunlight through windows though and that has always worked fine for us.

In a few weeks they’ll be cured.  Curing brings out the sweetness and readies them for long-term storage.  To see if they’re ready, just rub two potatoes together.  If the skin rubs off they still need to cure more.  If not, they’re ready for storage.

Then we put them in porous crates and move them to a dark cool place in the basement. It’s important to check them occasionally over the winter to make sure none are rotting.  A rotten potato or two can spoil a whole crate of them.

The best part of all this, of course, is eating them.

I’m looking forward to that.