Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How to Harvest and Cure Sweet Potatoes

It's sweet potato time in South Louisiana! I love harvesting root vegetables because it's always a surprise. You know there is something under that dirt, but how big and how many??? It's time to excavate! My sweet potato bed this year was a 4x8 raised bed. This works great because it is easier to keep the vines contained (they will take over everything if you let them) but at the same time gives them plenty of space to produce a good crop.

 As you can see, my vines are still nice and green when I am harvesting. Some places will tell you to wait until the vines die down, which may be true up north, but here in the south that may not happen until January! For my area harvesting takes place a minimum of 120 days after planting. (To learn how to start your own sweet potato slips for planting, click here.)

 It's hard to tell in the picture, but you will start to notice the dirt at the base of each stem beginning to mound up in a little hill. This is because there are potatoes under there!

 To check and see if your sweet potatoes are ready, gently brush away some of the soil around the base of the plant and you should be able to see the tops of a few sweet potatoes. You can roughly judge their size and decide if it is time to harvest.

 Gently dig around the base of the plants to get the tubers out of the ground. I usually end up using my hands more than a shovel so that I don't knick the potatoes or accidentally break off the ends.

If you are lucky and have loose soil, you may be able to pull up an entire group all at once! After you have all of the plants pulled up, be sure to turn the soil throughout the garden really well. You will be surprised how many rogue sweet potatoes you will find hiding out! My garden will yield 15-20 pounds of sweet potatoes this year.

 Lay the sweet potatoes out on the dirt or path to dry for a few hours in the sun allowing any injuries to heal before brushing off the dirt and storing them. Once they are completely dry, they must be cured in order to have that sweet taste that we are all looking forward to.

Next, cure the sweet potatoes by storing them in a warm humid place for 7-10 days. It should be at least 80 degrees F. This isn't too hard to come by in Louisiana even in October- I just put them in a paper bag in the shed, greenhouse, or attic. Next, keep them at 55 degrees F for 4-6 weeks. While this may be easier up north, I will be keeping them in a mini fridge set to that temperature. The curing process helps trigger the sugar creating enzymes in order to have that sweet taste we are all looking forward to. After the potatoes have been cured, sweet potatoes will keep for several months without losing any nutritional value. Now its time to start collecting recipes!!!