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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 see 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!
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.
My 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.
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.
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
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