Sweet Potato Time

We’ve been busy with sweet potatoes the last few days.  They’ve been taking up a lot of our time, backing us up on other things.

We grow a lot of sweet potatoes.  If you can keep the deer out of them (no small feat) they grow well here.  And of course they’re nutritious and delicious.

Getting them up does take a lot of time, but it’s a once-a-year job.

First step is to pull out all the vines and haul them to the compost pile.  Doing it by hand, that’s the most time-consuming part of the job.  I did the first garden by hand.  With the second one (we grew them in four gardens) I used a spring harrow (jitterbug) to drag them out.  That worked much better and is how I’ll continue to do it, except in our raised beds, where it will have to be done by hand.

They're underneath that tangled mess of vines.

The sweet potatoes are underneath that tangled mess of vines.

Compost to be

compost to be

After the vines are cleared away we dig out the potatoes–some by hand, some with a digging fork and some with a potato plow.

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Next we lay out the potatoes to let them dry in the sun.  Ideally they should be out the better part of a day.  In our case we’re usually able to leave them out about five hours.

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In the late afternoon we gather them up, separating them into 4 groups–those that are cut or have animal bites, those that are too small to be marketable, those that are too large to be marketable and those that are just right. The “just right” ones we’ll sell.  The others will be eaten by us or our pigs.  Here we eat the culls and the pigs eat the culls of the culls.

The final step is to cure the potatoes.  Ideally they should be left in a warm, well-ventilated area for a couple of weeks.  Curing brings out the sweetness in the potato. They’re edible right out of the ground, but not as good as they’ll be once they’re cured.  We spread ours out on tarps in our basement to cure and that has always worked well for us.

Once cured they’ll keep for nearly a year as long as they are stored in a cool dark place.  We put ours in vegetable crates and stack them in a corner in the basement.

Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods.  It’s good to have them back.

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15 comments on “Sweet Potato Time

  1. Jeff says:

    When you make your compost, do you layer the sweet potato vines between layers of small sticks? I’ve learned that leaves are high in nitrogen and won’t make good compost all by themselves – you have to add woodier material, which has a lot of carbon in it. I’ve never made compost but I often get a tree trimmer to dump a load of chips, which makes wonderful dirt after a year or so. The chips are mixed with ground up leaves, of course, from chipping tree branches.

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    • Bill says:

      We’ll add lots of leaves to the pile this fall. It also has lots of pea hulls in it now. Over the course of the year we’ll add horse manure, rotten hay, kitchen scraps and next spring we’ll clean our the barn stalls and add the animal bedding. The pile will be mature in the spring of 2016 and should be rich and black by then.

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  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, my compost piles get fresh green grass mixed with dried leaf mulch that’s just been crunched up a little by the lawn mower. It will compost down over the Winter enough to be used as trench compost when the raised bed is prepared in the Spring. Trench compost is probably half to two thirds finished compost that’s buried in a trench about a foot under the seeds or plants in the garden bed. As it finished composting, the plants will send their roots down into the compost and draw out the nutrients. That mixture makes for good mulch as well. Spread a foot deep over the garden in the fall, it will compost down over the Winter months to about four to six inches by Spring and down to just a couple inches of good compost mulch by fall. Since I have an unlimited supply of grass/leaf mixture just sitting by the curb through my neighborhood in the fall, it is my choice of mulch. Yes, many use chemicals during the summer but the last couple yard waste collections of the season are pretty much chemical free and the leaves are always chemical free. So it’s not entirely organically chemical free but good enough for me.

    I’ve never tried to grow sweet potatoes. I imagine that they would grow here. I haven’t met any one here that has tried to grow them. I can eat sweet potatoes once in awhile but regular potatoes are definitely my first choice. I still have some to dig out of the ground.

    Have a great sweet potato day.

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    • Bill says:

      Sweet potatoes are a hot weather crop like okra. You may be able to grow them there but I’m guessing they do better in the south. If you can grow them you should. They’re a great food–better I think than regular potatoes.

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  3. bobraxton says:

    your basement must be a walk-out with plenty of floor space. Our Fairfax County house built circa 1970 does not have and egress / entrance to and from the outdoors. One must go through our front door. The stairs to basement are directly beneath the stairs to top level of our house.

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    • Bill says:

      Yes we have a full basement with a separate walk out double door. We use it a lot. We process and store vegetables there, we store our feed there. We wash the veggies there. Our chest freezers are there, etc. It’s essential to the way we run our farm.

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  4. Elizabeth Snider says:

    Hi,
    Growing sweet potatoes for the first time in Albuquerque! Should I wait for the vines to die before I harvest? They have been such an amazing plant, beautiful plant that thrives with not much water. We shall see though when I harvest. Always enjoy your morning blog!
    Thanks,
    Liz Snider

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    • Bill says:

      Hey Liz. You can wait till then and that will assure maximum growth. The longer the potatoes are in the ground the better they taste. But the longer they’re there the more they grow. We got ours up a few weeks earlier than usual because they’re growing so big. Our experience has been that people want them baking size. We can grow them to basketball size if we want, but that’s just too big. I recommend you just dig a few up and see how they look.

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  5. Buffy says:

    Why not feed the sweet potato vines to your goats? They love them!

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    • Bill says:

      Honestly it has never occurred to me. I’m guessing the pigs would love them too. We still have a couple of gardens to go, so I’m going to try that. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Laura says:

    Thanks for the info on curing. I will be digging mine up within the next week and hope to have them last for a while.

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    • Bill says:

      You’ll know they’re cured when you can rub two of them together without rubbing the skin off. If you’re able to spread them out that’s best. If you have to store them touching each other (as we do) just be sure to check on them now and then. If one rots it will ruin all the potatoes it touches.

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