A Mad Rush Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

Yesterday, while attending the wedding of a dear friend, another homesteading family that we are friends with sat down in front of us and struck up a casual conversation.

The husband shared with me the unfortunate loss of their entire sorghum harvest to aphids and wasps, a problem they’ve never encountered before. They had planned to make molasses this week, only to find that the canes were no good.

My heart felt sick for them. All of that work tending the crop for months and months, with no payoff in the end.

Changing the subject, he smiled and asked me, “Have you harvested your sweet potatoes yet?”

“No. I’m waiting for the vines to die back.” I replied.

His face turned serious as he responded, “Oh no. You need to pull ’em up before the frost kills the vines. If the frost kills the vines it’ll ruin your potatoes.”

I thought I’d read somewhere that you should let the vines die before you dig up the sweet potatoes. I thanked him deeply for the advice, adding that he probably just saved my entire harvest as a frost was expected overnight!

When the wedding was over, I rushed home to get to work in the garden. It was almost 5pm, the sun was already going down, and I only had an hour before I had to leave to go to a family get-together.

I changed into pants, threw on an apron, and got busy pulling vines from the overgrown sweet potato bed:

overgrown sweet potato plants in raised bed

It’s hard to believe this started out as only five or six little sweet potato slips!

Kendra Lynne hoeing sweet potatoes
Kendra Lynne hoeing sweet potatoes

I yanked, and pulled, and threw the wild vines into the empty raised bed behind me. Then I began hoeing deep into the dirt, searching for hidden spuds.

woman harvesting sweet potatoes
woman harvesting sweet potatoes

I tried to use my hands as much as possible, so that I wouldn’t slice the potatoes with the blade too much. Digging for potatoes never gets old! It’s always like a treasure hunt.

sweet potato

At first I only found a few little guys, but as I dug deeper I found larger and larger potatoes. The best ones grew right at the base of the main plant, with smaller spuds growing at various intervals along the plant where the sprawling vine had taken root.

massive sweet potato 2015

This four pound whopper was the biggest of the crop. I couldn’t believe how massive it was!

sweet potatoes

It was interesting to uproot sweet potatoes of different shades, even though they were grown on the same plant. I wonder what makes some orange and some red?

sweet potato holes

I also noticed that a few of the potatoes have holes bored through them. From what I can gather, Wireworms might be the culprit. I’d love to hear from any of you who have experience in this regard, and any advice or suggestions you might have.

32 pounds of sweet potatoes from our first harvest
32 pounds of sweet potatoes from our first harvest

All in all, I ended up harvesting 32 pounds of sweet potatoes. Not bad for our first attempt!

At this moment they’re laying out in trays in the sun so the dirt can dry off of them. Once they’re dry, I’ll bring them in to cure indoors for 2 weeks before we eat them.

Now that I’ve dabbled a little and know what to expect next time around, I’d love to plant a huge sweet potato bed. We LOVE baked sweet potatoes! We’ll need a lot more than 32 pounds to get us through a year!

Do you have any harvesting sweet potatoes advice to add to the conversation? What has your experience been?

22 thoughts on “A Mad Rush Harvesting Sweet Potatoes”

  1. I grew sweet potatoes 4 years in a row. Each time trying something different method. Vines left running, vines cut back, vines on a trellis, the back to vines just running. I used weed barrier after the weeds took over the first season. You can cover the vines with a tarp if you think a frost is possible.

  2. So excited I found your site!!! I am psyched to add yummy sweet potatoes to my garden next year!! I’ve got a fairly large one (5400 sq ft) but hope to double or even 2.5xs that next year as I want to grow as many veggies as I can. Have you tried purple sweets yet?? They. Are. AMAZING!!! You can get them from Stokes, but if you’re hunting the organic slips like me, buy them EARLY, they sell out super quick…hence why I didn’t plant any this year.

  3. I do not like sweet potatoes and while I am not on my dream land YET I was wondering if you ever trade veggies? I would be willing to grow the sweet potatoes for the vines and how pretty they look but then what? And don’t offer recipes ya’all I don’t like sweet potatoes. Anyway I have wondered if people swap veggies, esp if one has an over abundance or one grows something they never intended to eat?

  4. Kendra,
    I just harvested my first-ever sweet potatoes on Saturday. Judging from your last pic I got about the same amount. I was ECSTATIC when I started digging up those potatoes! How exciting it is to be able to harvest one last thing from the garden before the first hard freeze. I do, however, still have some very hardy kale growing. I can’t eat enough to keep up with it!
    Love reading your posts btw!
    Dana Crespo

    • Harvest the kale leaves from the middle of the plant as early as you can, leave the heart to grow more leaves for the next harvest. Wash them well, destem them, boil them for three minutes, like skalding! Cool them with ice cold water, pack them into freezer bags, get out as much air as possible, put them into the freezer til you like to use them. Do this with all layers of the plant that grow after this, you get quite an amount of freezer bags full for the wintertime and onwards. You do not have to eat it all at once, the plant produces several meals. And the leaves taken off before the frost get their frost in the freezer! Try it out, it is the way I do it and succeed!

  5. My second year growing-got nothing from and outdoor planting, tried in the greenhouse this year, two lay down and died after greenfly infested them, the other two produced one each skinny tuber about the size of my thumb-but they tasted lovely! Too expensive to try growing again for the little return, sigh

  6. This was my first year to try potatoes too! I did a few sweet potato slips and luckily, my FIL told me to remove the vines before frost or I wouldn’t have known either. We dug a medium box full and the boys loved helping. You’re right, like a treasure dig. The funniest thing I did was assume that the regular potato plants would not die off til late summer or fall. So when they died back much earlier than I expected, I thought I’d killed them. Luckily again, my in-laws suggested I dig just to see and sure enough, I had potatoes!

  7. Just finished digging my sweet potatoes in a raised bed, had the same problem wire worms in some of the potatoes. Letting mine cure on the back porch on two restaurant size biscuit trays, will leave them there for 10 days. Then I’m going to bake them and use the food saver to put them in the freezer. Ellen from Georgia

  8. With regular potatoes you let the plant die back before harvesting. My FIL has always done regular potatoes but this was the first year we did our own. I will need more space if I ever hope to grow enough to get us through the winter, lol! Got quite a few from 2.5 pounds though. Enough for several meals anywyas:)
    So very glad you didn’t lose your harvest…that would have been awful!!

  9. Hi Kendra, I have never grown sweet potatoes but one year we did get some from our CSA that were badly damaged by wire worms. The good news is that although they were covered by those funny holes, when we baked them the holey parts seperated easily out of the potatoes and we had no problems eating them. At least I am still here to tell of it anyway! 🙂

  10. Hello! First time on here! Grew up on a farm, and my parents always had
    a huge garden, with my mother doing lots of canning, and then freezing when the freezer chest was introduced on the market…… I Married and lived in the suburbs, had a 13 x 15 ft. garden, made the soil garden ready with cut grass turned into the soil, added line(we had pure sand with a layer or two of black dirt for the young garden.) It soon was a very productive garden. carrots, tomatoes, green peppers, onion, cukes, even tried egg plant one year(successfully) and brussel sprouts)successfully). Oh,and green beans………My one thought when I saw those sweet potatoes of yours was, I think I would try a different kind, one with a smoother skin. garden catalogs have many different kinds, I know. We love sweet potatoes here also, but no place to put a garden, so I’m sort of gardening thru you! You are a happy gardener, and good luck in your endeavor…

  11. Nice crop. But curious if you could have just pulled the plants, and dug the potatoes the next day? Plants unconnected and potatoes safe from frost under ground, it would make sense to me, but I am not a farmer.

  12. My biggest sweet pot was about the size of my thumb-the harvest from 4 plants-but it was sweeet!Incredibly expensive taters!


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