PLANTING, GROWING, AND HARVESTING SWEET POTATOES By The Editors
Are you growing sweet potatoes? With their deep orange flesh, these edible roots have a naturally-sweet flavor and are a top source of beta-carotene. Thriving in warm soil, unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes will be ready to harvest just as the ends of the vines begin to turn yellow, or just before frost. Perfect timing for autumn foods and the holiday table!
The sweet potato is a large, sweet-tasting root of the morning glory family. (Regular potatoes belong to the nightshade family). This is a very undemanding crop to grow; sweet potatoes are drought- and heat-tolerant and have few pests or diseases. The sweet potato is also very nutritious and relatively low in calories. In addition, we think that the sweet potatoes’ lush vines make a lovely ground cover for beds.
The only major requirement for sweet potatoes is sun and warm soil; this is a tropical plant.
Though traditionally more of a Southern crop, there are many short-season varieties of sweet potato today which will grow in the North (even Canada!) as long as they have several months of warm weather. Mulching planting beds with black plastic warms soil in northern regions.
Sweet potatoes aren’t started by seed like most other vegetables, they’re started from slips—small rooted pieces of tuber which are sliced right off the sweet potato.
Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams
True yams” are rarely found in U.S. grocery stores and are starchy, dry tubers from Africa. They are related to lilies and have a cylindrical shape with blackish or brown, bark-like skin and white, purple, or reddish flesh. You can often find them in specialty stores.
In U.S. grocery stores, you’ll often find two different type of sweet potatoes: “firm” and “soft.” Groceries stores will often call the “firm” type a “sweet potato” and the “soft” type a “yam” to differentiate the two, even though neither is a true yam. To add to the confusion, it’s the “soft” sweet potato with the deep orange flesh and copper skin that we usually plant and eat. Even if stores call it a yam! Just look carefully at the flesh and skin to confirm which is which.
HOW TO HARVEST SWEET POTATOES
You can start digging up the potatoes as soon as they are big enough for a meal. Often, this is 3 to 4 months from when you planted the slips (most varieties take at least 100 days to reach maturity).
Usually, sweet potatoes are ready to harvest when the leaves and ends of the vines have started turning yellow, but you can leave them in the ground up until the fall frost.
Since the roots spread 4 to 6 inches deep in the soil, a spade fork is useful when digging up the potatoes. Loosen the soil around the plant (18-inch diameter) so you do not injure the tubers. It’s fine to cut some of the vines away.
Pull up the primary crown of the plant and use your hands to dig up the tubers. Handle the sweet potatoes carefully, as they bruise easily.
After digging up the tubers, shake off any excess dirt, but do not wash the roots.
You must cure sweet potatoes or they will not have that delicious, sweet taste. Curing the potatoes allows a second skin to form over scratches and bruises that occur when digging up the potatoes. To cure, keep the roots in a warm place (about 80°F/27°C) at high humidity (about 90%) for 10 to 14 days. A table outside in a shady spot works well. For best curing, make sure that the potatoes are not touching one another.
After curing, throw out any bruised potatoes, and then wrap each one in newspaper and pack them carefully in a wooden box or basket. Store the sweet potatoes in a root cellar, basement, or other place with a temperature of at least 55°F/13°C.
If stored at a temperature range of 55–60°F (13–15.5°C) with high humidity, the tubers should last for about 6 months. When removing the potatoes from storage, remember to be gentle; do not dig around or else you will bruise the potatoes.
Sweet potatoes will retain their color better if cooked with a slice of lemon.Sweet potatoes are a very healthy root vegetable, and they provide many benefits.
Taken from https://www.almanac.com/plant/sweet-potatoes
Till next time this is Becky Litterer Becky’s Greenhouse, Dougherty Iowa firstname.lastname@example.org 641-794-3337 cell phone 641-903-9365