Here's everything you need to know about how to harvest and store sweet potatoes! You planted the sweet potato slips, watched, and waited while they grew... now what?
There are a few surefire ways to tell when your sweet potato plants are ready for harvest - and a couple of things you absolutely need to do to store sweet potatoes all winter long!
Properly harvesting and storing sweet potatoes will provide you with soothing southern aromas, warm fall & winter meals, and needed nutrition when seasonal sources are limited.
Everything You Need to Know About How To Harvest and Store Sweet Potatoes
When should you harvest sweet potatoes? How do you harvest sweet potatoes? Not to mention... what do you do with all those sweet potatoes once you’ve harvested them?
Sweet potatoes set their flavor the last three weeks before harvest. They will continue to grow right up until they are harvested. Depending on your gardening zone, the sweet potato harvest should be in September or October.
Leave them as long as they need; if you harvest too early, the sweet potatoes will be spindly and not as tasty. Harvesting mature sweet potatoes also means they will heal faster during the curing process - more on that later!
How To Tell When Sweet Potatoes Are Ready For Harvest
Keep in mind that you can't tell when sweet potatoes are ready for harvest by the condition of your vines alone. The vines will continue growing and blooming until the first hard frost!
When the sweet potato vines look a little droopy and you have had four or five cool nights and mornings, it’s time to check them.
To tell when sweet potatoes are ready for harvest, gently dig around one of your hills. If you are happy with what you find as far as the number of potatoes, their size, and their color, it’s time to harvest your sweet potatoes!
A word of caution, if you leave them until the vines are frostbitten or frozen, you’ll have to dig your potatoes immediately!
The Actual Sweet Potato Harvest
If your initial check indicated they're ready, it's time for the real deal sweet potato harvest! One quick note - if possible, avoid doing your sweet potato harvest when the ground is wet. If it can’t be avoided, keep in mind that the curing time must be increased.
If you have a big garden & a single plow, just run it down the outside of each row, exposing the golden treasures.
Otherwise, use a shovel to gently dig a trench down the row next to the bottom of the hill. As you dig, dump each shovel of dirt so that all of your sweet potato harvest, even the ones hiding in the clumps of dirt, can be seen. You will have to get in there and dig some of the sweet potatoes out by hand once the hills are uncovered.
Don’t be alarmed by having some that are cut, scraped, or nicked. You will probably have quite a few with damage, maybe even cut in half! This is where proper curing becomes important, so now that the sweet potato harvest is complete, let's get into that!
How to Cure Sweet Potatoes
Once you have completed the sweet potato harvest, it’s time to cure them.
This is the process of allowing them to heal from any cuts, nicks, or other injuries which happened during harvesting. Amazing, right?!
To cure sweet potatoes, place them on a tarp or table so they are not touching one another. This should be done in an area where they will receive air and sun. Be sure to protect them from rain as needed!
Keep in mind that to cure sweet potatoes, the temperature needs to be 80 or above while curing. They cure best when the humidity is high.
If your climate has low humidity, place a damp, not wet, covering over them (like a sheet or thin towels) to create artificial humidity. Leave them in these conditions for a week to two weeks.
When the scrapes, cuts and nicks looked healed, your sweet potatoes are officially cured and be ready for storage! In areas such as gardening zone 8, this process will only take 4-5 days.
If you don’t have a tarp or tables for this method, lay them out on the floor or anywhere they do not touch. The temperature and humidity needs are the same no matter where you allow them to cure - indoor curing is possible, but will take up to a week longer.
How to Preserve Your Sweet Potato Harvest
Did you know sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritious foods you can grow? Don't let any of your sweet potato harvest go to waste!
The first step to properly storing sweet potatoes is to separate them. Baskets or crates make good storage containers for sweet potatoes. You will need several containers. Depending on how many sweet potatoes you have, you may have more than one container for each group:
- The first bin is for the ones that must be used first. Sweet potatoes that are bruised, cut in two, or have wounds that did not heal when curing, need to be eaten first.
- The second is for the sweet potatoes that healed but have some other blemish such asbug holeswhich makes them unsuitable for long term storage. These are to be used second.
- The third is for the sweet potatoes which healed perfectly and have no other blemishes or defects. These are suitable for long term storage.
- The fourth is for teeny tiny ones. These are suitable for raw doggie treats, raw snacks for us, or boiling.
- The fifth bin is for the best of the best. These are used to grow slips from for next year’s crop.
- The sixth and last container is for the funky potatoes. These are large, ugly sweet potatoes to be used in pies or casseroles orbaked and fed to the chickens. Large sweet potatoes are likely to be stringy. Sweet potatoes exposed to long periods of dry weather or left in the ground too long become stringy when cooked.
How To Store Sweet Potato Harvest
Do not wash sweet potatoes before storing.
Washing them before storage will cause them to rot! They need to be stored under cool, dry conditions.
Sweet potatoes will keep for 3-5 months under cool, dry conditions.
Sweet potatoes become sweeter the longer they are in storage. The sugar content may cause them to decay so you will have to check them. If you see any that look like they are shriveling, take them out and use them right away or preserve them in some other way.
Other Methods for Storing Sweet Potatoes
- Separate them then store them in burlap bags hung from the ceiling in a cool dry place.
- Store between layers of hay or straw in a shed or barn. This method exposes the rodent damage and temperature fluctuations which can cause them to rot.
Although harvesting and storing sweet potatoes is not difficult, it does require some work. You’ll be rewarded all winter long with casseroles, pies, mashed sweet potatoes, sweet potato fries, and much more!
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