Tips for Digging and Storing Sweet Potatoes

on October 24, 2014
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sweet potato treasures

I love sweet potatoes. Everything about them is wonderful to me. They are one of the most nutritious foods you can grow in your garden. The old timers say they help you keep your night vision and prevent cancer. Modern science has proven them right. They are a power house of nutrition and energy!

All winter I look forward to the sprouting in the spring, planting the slips, watching them grow into beautiful green vines with lovely purple flowers, and best of all digging them up! It always feel like I am finding treasures. There are so many surprises under the dirt. You will find odd shapes and sizes; the tendrils that go everywhere and grow one potato off by itself, but you just have to follow the tendril to get that one potato. We found mice tunnels and mice, EEEK! Luckily for me, Roxie and J were there to take care of them for me. It is also a good opportunity to see the condition of the soil. We were very glad to worm in gardensee so many large red worms. They are a sign of healthy soil.

We planted 6 rows 22 feet long and got almost 475# of sweet potatoes! Wow! They range in size from large casserole making ones to small doggie treat size. So many different looks to them.  So much fun. The dogs love them. When we are digging, they are sitting at the fence waiting for us to throw them a small one as a treat. They will eat as many as we throw them. But too many causes them some serious gas! Phew!

young sweet potato vines

So you’ve planted the slips, watched them grow, and are anxiously waiting to dig them up. When do you dig? How do you dig? and What do you do with all those potatoes when you’re done!?

When to dig sweet potatoes is the hardest question you’ve asked. The last few weeks of the season, September to October depending on where you live, is when the sweet potatoes grow the most and set their flavor. If you plant to early or harvest too early, you won’t get as nice a potato. They will be small, thin, and low-starch (not sweet).The more mature a sweet potato is, the better it will heal from cuts, scrapes, and nicks.

If you just can’t stand it, and you know I can’t, dig up a hill and check the size and number of the potatoes in it. If you are happy with what you find, dig them up. You really can’t judge a sweet potato’s readiness by its vine. They will bloom right up until a hard frost. When my vines look wilty and we have enjoyed a few cooler nights and mornings, we dig them. I say we, but you know that I mean J digs and I pick up. 🙂 If your plants get hard bitten by frost, the vines will turn black and you will need to dig your potatoes right away.

row of sweet potatoes ready to be dugMy grandfather dug his potatoes by running a single plow on the outside of each row and then they were picked up and dug out by hand. I don’t have a single plow, yet , but when we do that is how we will do it. Right now, J takes a shovel and starts at one end of the row and digs under the hill. He throws the dirt out one shovel full at a time so that it is sifted and I can see any potatoes hiding in clumps. The other potatoes are in the row and I pick them up. I love it when he uncovers a mound of them and I get to dig them out by hand, like in the first photo.

Once your potatoes are dug, they need to cure. This is just to let them have some time to heal over cuts, scrapes, and nicks. Be sure you don’t dig while the soil is wet because this will prolong your curing time. I put mine on a tarp on the back porch so the sun can hit them easily. You could use a table or anything that would allow them plenty of space. You don’t want them stacked on top of one another. They should all be laid out for air and sun to hit them. Let them sit for 2-3 days. If you are not in the south like me, where temps are often in the 80s during the day in October, you will need to let them sit out for 10 – 14 days before storing. The temperature needs to be 80 or above during these days. They like humid air when they are drying too, so if it is really dry, you can put a damp sheet or towel over them.

The old timers used to dig them a little at a time and put them around the wood stove or in the attic area around the stove pipe to cure. You could put them near your furnace, or some other heat source, just be sure not to over heat them.

Once they are cured, you need to separate them. You will need to put the ones that are bruised or have been cut where you can use them first. I use baskets and crates for our storage bins, but you can use whatever you have. The nice size ones that have no bug holes, cuts or bruises go into my long term storage bin. This means I will use them last since they are in good enough shape to keep well into late winter, early spring. The really small ones I put in a basket that I use for doggie treats and for boiling to make candied potatoes, eating raw, or such. The medium sized ones that have some damage or I am not sure about, go into another bin for baking, boiling, frying, just whatever I need them for. The large, ugly monster ones have their own bin and I bake them for casseroles and pies. The larger ones can be stringy, but so far this year I have yet to dig a stringy one. They tend to get stringy when it is very dry or they are in the ground too long.

Medium sweet potatoes stored in basket

Medium Sweet Potatoes Stored in Basket

In storage they need to be dry and cool so keep this in mind. My grandmother had some in burlap bags she hung from the ceiling in the pantry area of her dining room and she kept some under hay in the shed beside the house. She also baked large batches, let them cool, then wrap them in freezer paper and put them in the freezer until she wanted them. She would thaw them out, heat them up, and they were good. The longer they are in storage, the sweeter they become. Keep an eye on them as you take some out to use. If you see some shriveling or looking otherwise faint, you can bake a batch and then freeze them, can them, or dehydrate them to keep from loosing them.

I told you how to freeze them, canning them is just as easy. Peel them and cut them into the size pieces you want, then cook them in boiling water or steam for 20- 30  minutes until softened. Dry pack them into jars by filling the jar with the hot pieces and putting the lid on or you can pour boiling water over them to hot pack them; be sure to leave 1-2 inches of head space in the jar. Process in a pressure canner for 90 minutes. My canner is a weighted gauge canner and I set it at 10 pounds of pressure weight. Don’t forget to adjust the weight to 15 pounds if you are over 1000 feet above sea level. A dial gauge canner should be set at 11 pounds from 0-2000 feet above sea level and adjusted one pound up for ever 2000 feet above that: if you are 2001-4000 feet you would use 12 pounds; 4001-6000 feet you would use 13 pounds; so on and so on.

Dehydrating them is easy. I dehydrate almost all of our harvest, I can very little any more. Dehydrating saves me space and time, both of which I am always short on. Peel them and cut out any unwanted areas, or leave the peel on and cut out any unwanted areas. Slice them into 1/8 inch thick slices and dry at highest temperature for 2 hours then decrease to 115 degrees. This locks in the enzymes and doesn’t kill them. If you can’t be available to turn the dehydrator down after two hours, just set it on 115 degrees to begin with. This lower temperature requires a longer drying time, but it is worth it to me to not kill the food. They will be brittle when done and it should take between 11-18 hours depending on your humidity.

monster swt pot

Most importantly, don’t be afraid of storing your crop. Sweet potatoes will keep 3-5 months under most circumstances and there are so many uses for them: casseroles, pies, mashed, french fries, baked, fried, boiled, breakfast casseroles, soups,…oh my the list goes on and on.

Ever since I was a little girl digging sweet potatoes has been one of my favorite garden chores. How about you? What’s your favorite garden chore? Do you have a great sweet potato recipe you would like to share? If you would like me to share your recipe on my Pinterest Board, Yummy Sweet Potato Recipes, and my Facebook page, comment or email me to share it with us. If you have a website, I will link it back to you. I can’t wait to hear from you.

Safe and Happy Journey,

Rhonda and The Pack

sweet potato vines for chickens

 

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20 Comments

  • Tips for Digging and Storing Sweet Potatoes | homesteadinfo

    […] Tips for Digging and Storing Sweet Potatoes. […]

    October 24, 2014 at 10:29 pm Reply
  • Jason

    I love sweet potatoes, great article on a great thing to grow in any garden.

    October 24, 2014 at 10:34 pm Reply
    • Rhonda Crank

      Yes Jason, sweet potatoes are wonderful! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      October 24, 2014 at 10:45 pm Reply
  • April

    Great tips! I’m going to add sweet potatoes to my garden next year for the first time, and found some helpful information here. Thanks 🙂

    October 27, 2014 at 3:38 am Reply
    • Rhonda Crank

      Thanks April for taking the time to comment. Once you start planting sweet potatoes, you’ll always plant them! Glad I was able to help, let me know if you run into any questions or need me in any way.

      October 27, 2014 at 10:34 am Reply
      • April

        Thank you I will. 🙂

        October 27, 2014 at 10:55 pm Reply
  • Tim Cummins

    Sweet potato leaf is used in West African and Caribbean food. A delicious ‘potato Leaf soup’ from Sierra Leone combines meat, fish and chicken with palm oil, onions, pepper, peanut butter and potato leaf. Heaven…. I have grown sweet potatoes in southern England, started under glass/cloches – quite successful!

    April 15, 2015 at 3:00 pm Reply
  • sylvia christensen

    I don’t have garden space for growing my own potatoes. Will sweet potatoes and yams from the supermarket dehydrate successfully? I have a dehydrator and love to use it for goodies.

    April 28, 2015 at 7:21 pm Reply
    • Rhonda

      Sylvia, Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your question. Yes, they will dehydrate successfully. If you can find them, organic sweet potatoes are what I would buy. Supermarket sweet potatoes have been sprayed of course with chemicals as they grew and then they are treated to prevent them from attempting to grow slips when they get older. But I know people who buy them at the farmer’s market or one guy has a local feed store that gets them in boxes to sell and he buys a couple boxes of those. They are deliciously sweet when dehydrated. Let me know if I can help in any other way.

      April 29, 2015 at 7:26 am Reply
  • Raymond Alexander Kukkee

    We live up in NW Ontario and are playing around with sweet potatoes for the first time. We have successfully grown slips, we may have to plant them directly in the ground in the greenhouse because of our shorter growing season. This is an excellent all-purpose vegetable which we very much enjoy. Have you ever tried “potato chips” (thins) made with sweet potatoes? They’re excellent! Thank you for your great articles on sweet potatoes.

    May 28, 2015 at 7:42 pm Reply
    • Rhonda

      Raymond, I worked with a fellow nurse once who was from Ontario, she was awesome 🙂 Good luck with those sweet potatoes, if I can help in any way, please let me know. They will love the green house environment because they do really well in warm climates. I too like sweet potato chips, we actually make them ourselves. I’ll tell you, there just isn’t a way that you could make a sweet potato that I wouldn’t like 🙂 I’m very glad you enjoyed the articles. We’re hoping for another bumper crop this year, but we’ve had record breaking rains and flooding, so we’ll see what happens. Thanks for stopping by to let me hear from you!

      May 29, 2015 at 7:29 am Reply
  • Bruce Loder

    An old timer, big time gardener, who plants over 300 slips each year said you can eat the leaves by boiling them. I suppose they may taste like spinach, but I haven’t tried it. If you can cook them, you should be able to put them in salads.

    August 23, 2016 at 6:35 am Reply
    • Rhonda Crank

      Bruce, Thanks for stopping in to share with us. Yes, they are eaten in salads. We’ve tried them and they’re pretty good. Thanks so much for the old-timer’s wisdom! I’ll be sure to try it!I’m curious to know if they have a spinach taste or a mustard taste. If you try them, be sure to let me know!

      August 23, 2016 at 9:46 am Reply
  • Quianna

    Thanks for the great article. I successfully grew slips in quart mason jars on my window sill. They took a while but I eventually got at least 15 slips. I planted them on June 14th in Minnesota. I think its time to dig them up so I will this weekend. However, the temps are so low here i’ll never get 80 degrees for more than a couple hours if I’m lucky. How should I go about curing them otherwise?

    Thanks so much for the articles.

    September 13, 2016 at 11:51 am Reply
    • Rhonda Crank

      Quianna, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. You can cure them indoors next to a wood stove or n a heated room. As long as they aren’t touching and the room is warm, they’ll cure fine. I would allow them a few extra days, but that’s because I’m cautious like that. Digging sweet potatoes is my favorite garden chore. I feel like I’m treasure hunting! I love it. Think of me when you’re digging. 🙂

      September 13, 2016 at 1:23 pm Reply
  • Michelle Hedgcock

    How do you use the dehydrated sweet potatoes?

    Thanks for the excellent overview. I’ll be harvesting mine soon!

    September 22, 2016 at 3:12 pm Reply
    • Rhonda Crank

      Michelle, Thanks so much for letting us know you enjoyed the article. I use the dehydrated sweet potatoes in soup, rehydrate them and bake them in casseroles, rehydrate by boiling and making mashed sweet potatoes. I hope this helps spur your creative juices!

      September 24, 2016 at 7:23 am Reply
  • Southern Style Sweet Potato Casserole ~

    […] potatoes are one of the healthiest things you can grow in your home garden. There are so many ways to prepare them. They are one of if not my favorite thing in the garden. […]

    October 27, 2016 at 12:15 pm Reply
  • Gayle

    I grow sweet potatoes every year but I seem to get enormous SP. some are the size of footballs. They are good and keep a long time but would like to get more normal sized ones. Any suggestions?

    December 28, 2016 at 6:44 am Reply
    • Rhonda Crank

      Hello Gayle, To get the size sweet potatoes you seem to be looking for, you’ll need to dig them earlier. It sounds like you have perfect soil for them to grow large so waiting for the vines to die back before digging is giving them too much time to develop. Once they’ve had sufficient growing days, begin checking the hills by gently removing some dirt around a couple of hills until you find potatoes. When they’re the size you prefer, you can dig them. You’ll still get sweet potato treasures of all sizes, but you shouldn’t have as many “monster potatoes.” Thanks for the question and if I can help in any other way, let me know. Happy digging!

      December 28, 2016 at 11:16 am Reply

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