It is finally time to harvest our sweet potatoes. We planted ours late in the season, as sweet potatoes are one of the few plants that can be planted and will thrive during the peak of our summer heat. They grow attractive vines through the summer and take three to four months to grow and develop potatoes. We planted ours at the end of June, and 100 days later, they are ready to harvest.

Harvesting sweet potatoes can be back breaking work. Here at WBTW, we grew ours in a raised container garden, which will make it easier. In a garden where the vines have room to roam, a sweet potato bed can get large, and finding all the potatoes can be difficult. Using a pitchfork or shovel can be helpful, but care must be taken to not damage the potatoes. The skins are easily damaged, and potatoes are easily bruised.

It is time to harvest sweet potatoes after they have grown the number of days after planting depending on the variety planting… or when three out of 10 potatoes have a diameter of 3 1/2 inches or greater. Make sure to harvest sweet potatoes before the first frost. Cool soil temperatures can adversely impact the potato, lowering its quality and limiting how long they can be stored.

The first step when harvesting sweet potatoes is to cut away all the vines and get them out of the garden. Gently find, dig out and remove all the potatoes. While it is a lot of work, it can be fun finding out how many potatoes have been growing underground for the past few months.

These sweet potatoes freshly harvested are not ready to eat, they are still very starchy. They much be cured in order to convert the starch to sugar. The best way to cure sweet potatoes is to store them at 85 degrees and 90 percent humidity for one week. The home gardener is usually not able to produce these conditions, so a good alternative is to store them in the warmest room of your house (usually the kitchen) for two weeks. Curing will not occur at temperatures below 70 degrees. Curing sweet potatoes will make them sweeter and will heal any wounds they potatoes incurred during harvest.

Once the sweet potatoes are cured, they are ready to eat. They can be stored in a cool place and will last for up to six months. Sweet potatoes must not be stored in the refrigerator… temperatures below 50 degrees will ruin the flavor of the potato and can instigate early rotting.

Sweet potatoes still not eaten by next spring can be encouraged to produce slips that can be planted in the garden next summer for your next crop of potatoes.