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.

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15 comments on “Getting Up the Sweet Potatoes

  1. How can one possibly resist a post with that title? Thanks for the growing and storing tips. They do have personalities of their own, don’t they … 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      They come in all shapes and sizes. Industrial Ag keeps trying to come up with a sweet potato that is uniform in shape and size, since that’s what restaurants and grocery stores want. But on our farm they prefer to do their own thing.

      Like

  2. Leslie, Miami, Fl says:

    I learn so much from your posts.

    Like

  3. Mmmm, sweet potatoes. People have just begun growing them here in the last year or two, I don’t think on any kind of scale – definitely one of those things we think of as a treat from the South. And you’re probably an expert on this, what’s the difference between a yam and a sweet potato?

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    • Bill says:

      Yams and sweet potatoes are totally separate plants (the yam is from Africa and the sweet potato is from South America). But it’s common for folks to call sweet potatoes “yams.” One of my grandmothers made what she called candied yams, which were actually sweet potatoes. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a yam proper.
      I’m surprised its possible to grow them as far north as you are. I highly recommend growing them if you can. 🙂

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      • I looked it up after I commented, and apparently, there is a fair amount of commercial production of sweet potatoes in Ontario, and somewhat in the Maritimes (New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia). Beauregard is apparently the most common variety, and both areas need to use varieties that mature in 90-110 days because of the frost issue. Though I know one farm that is producing a small quantity of sweet potatoes for their CSA boxes here on Vancouver Island, I couldn’t find any web reference to commercial production here. There are instructions galore for starting them, though, so maybe I will give it a try for next season, just for fun.

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  4. df says:

    What an absolutely great how-to, thank you! Sweet potatoes have also recently become a popular crop around where we live, and I’m very keen to try them. They are truly one of my favourite foods, so versatile and so darn good for you! Your post has definitely got me thinking and may help me build up a bit of much needed confidence.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I hope you’ll be able to grow some. Once they get started they’re easy to tend. And as you so they are delicious, versatile and extremely nutritious. I’m a big fan of them. 🙂

      Like

  5. EllaDee says:

    Sweet potatoes are a staple in our diet, simple to cook, delicious and versatile. I hope we never get to the point where they become universally supermarket perfect.
    I’m happy to learn, in the right conditions they are simple to grow as well. I’d like to tryit myself some day 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      I hope you’ll give it a shot. They’re easy to grow and on a small scale (enough for a family) even easier. I love the fact that they thrive in hot, dry conditions. No need to worry about irrigation. Just keep the deer out!
      Sweet potatoes are both very nutritious and very delicious. A nice combination. 🙂

      Like

  6. shoreacres says:

    We have both yams and sweet potatoes in our markets. Sweet potatoes are – well, sweeter – and so of course Ms. Sweet Tooth here prefers them. The yams tend to be red and the sweet potatoes orange – I wondered if the difference in color in your photos was because of the light, or if you have a couple of varieties.

    One thing I didn’t know until my diabetic friends told me is that sweet potatoes are a much better choice than a white potato like a russet, because of their higher fiber content. One friend who’s been keeping herself off insulin with diet often has sweet potato pie as dessert. With enough cinnamon and nutmeg, very little added sugar is needed.

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    • Bill says:

      We grew three varieties this year. All have orange flesh, but they have different shades of it.
      When I was growing up we only ate sweet potatoes in sweet dishes (in pies, casseroles featuring brown sugar, candied yams, etc.) or baked. But now I know there are lots of awesome ways to eat them without sweetening them. Today for lunch I had a sweet potato/chick pea dish that was delicious. Sometimes I cut them into wedges, roll them in butter and bake them. Before putting them in the oven I decide whether to sprinkle brown sugar or cajun seasoning on them. Up to that point they’re prepared exactly the same. One way they come out sweet and the other way spicy. As folks above have said, they’re very versatile veggies.

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  7. How interesting, I never knew you had to cure sweet potatoes.
    Love learning something new.
    🙂 Mandy

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Curing brings out the sweetness and allows them to keep well over the winter. Lots of folks ask for our sweet potatoes as soon as they find out we’re harvesting them. I have to tell them to be patient. 🙂

      Like

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