Ben Sharda is KCCG’s Executive Director and he has led KCCG for more than 30 years. His practical approach to gardening has played a key role in KCCG’s success. This month, Ben offers tips on fertilizing your plants.
I probably get more harvesting questions about sweet potatoes than any other crop. And, that makes sense because with other crops like tomatoes or lettuce, you can see what you are harvesting and decide when to harvest based on appearance. With sweet potatoes, it is harder to know when to harvest because they are INVISIBLE (well, almost – because they are growing underground).
Sweet potato plants are planted in May and then grow all summer and the vines grow and spread out. Hopefully you have mulched them and kept the weeds out and watered when it was needed. If you have a lot of leafy vines that look healthy, that is usually a good sign that you will have a good sweet potato harvest.
September is the month to harvest sweet potatoes. August is too early and October is too late (usually too cold and rainy). During August, sweet potatoes are getting larger underground. By the second week in September, night time temperatures are starting to cool down which stops the sweet potatoes from getting any larger. I recommend digging one sweet potato plant, early in September, as a test to see what they look like. If they seem small you can leave them a little longer to hope that they get a little larger.
To dig a sweet potato plant, follow the vine back to the stalk that goes in the ground. Then, cut off most of the vine (to make it easier to see where you are digging) and leave the main stalk at 10-12 inches to give you a “handle”. Then clear away the cut vine and measure out about 12” and use a digging fork (sometimes called a potato fork) and dig down and underneath the clump of potatoes. Then pull back on the fork and lift up to raise up the clump of sweet potatoes. Then separate the potatoes and place them in a shallow cardboard box or plastic crate.
A few things to remember:
• Use first any sweet potatoes that may have been accidentally speared during the digging process. They won’t keep very long.
• Store your sweet potatoes in a warm dry place in your house. (65 degrees or warmer)
• Try to dig you sweet potatoes when the ground is dry. (so they will not be covered with mud!)
• Do not wash the sweet potatoes until you are ready to cook them. (gently loosen the dirt off them)
Sweet potatoes are extremely nutritious (and tasty too!). They will keep for a long time and they are very versatile – there are so many ways to prepare and use sweet potatoes in your meal planning. Go to your favorite recipe websites for new ideas on how to enjoy your sweet potatoes.