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.
It’s hard to believe this started out as only five or six little sweet potato slips!
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.
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.
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.
This four pound whopper was the biggest of the crop. I couldn’t believe how massive it was!
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?
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.
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?