One of the things that I discovered during the past two gardening years has been ways that I can get more from my harvests and how I can perpetuate a garden crop, which has been the focal point of this blog. Nothing can be easier than perpetuating sweet potatoes.
Rather than waiting until spring to create slips from sweet potatoes from a sweet potato root, I started collecting sweet potato roots with the stems and leaves attached in the fall and planting them in containers in the house to last all winter. But first, let’s find out how to take care of the sweet potatoes you are dig up.
Digging Sweet Potatoes
Where I live, it is now time to dig sweet potatoes. I use my broad fork to dig my sweet potatoes. To avoid damaging the tubers, I begin digging just outside where the potato vines are growing and dig in toward where I planted the original vine. That way as I come to a sweet potato, I finish digging it out with my hands and then place the sweet potatoes in a bucket. Once all of the sweet potatoes are picked, I take them inside and place them in a warm and dry, but dark area to cure. Some southerners recommend storing them in temperatures as high as ninety degrees so don’t worry that the temperature is too high where you are storing them. I spread them out on a table so that they can cure evenly and remove excess dampness that can expedite decomposition. Spreading them out and allowing them to dry out allows the skins to harden.
In addition to hardening the tuber’s flesh, curing in a warm and dry environment helps convert the starches of the sweet potatoes into sugars thereby increasing the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. Putting the sweet potatoes into cold storage stops the change from starches to sugars, so don’t move the into cold storage until they have cured in the warm dry environment for two weeks.
After the two weeks, I remove any damaged sweet potatoes to use regularly and store them in boxes in a cool dark place.
Periodically remove any sweet potatoes that show signs of decomposition. If you plan to can any of your sweet potatoes, for best results, can them before New Year’s Day.
Saving Sweet Potato Roots and Leaves Now for Spring Planting
Sweet potatoes are perennials so, the roots have the same genetics as the sweet potato. This enables me to eat the big sweet potatoes rather than keeping some back for producing slips.
Because I am growing the roots all winter, the plants produce more slips in the spring and uses parts of the sweet potato plant that I don’t usually use. I also get the added benefit of access to the sweet potato leaves that I can use during the winter months. These leaves are delicious and can be eaten raw or steamed and provide even more nutritional value than the sweet potato tubers.
When growing new sweet potato plants, most people purchase a sweet potato in the spring and plant the slips they produce from it or they purchase slips (often hard to find) from other growers. These slips can be put in the ground even without roots. Just keep them well watered and soon they will take root, and in a few months, will begin producing sweet potatoes.
I have my own solution. I grow my sweet potatoes from the roots left over from the previous year.
Because I am growing sweet potato roots all winter, the plants produce more slips in the spring and uses parts of the sweet potato plant that I don’t usually use therefore I can eat every sweet potato myself.
Since I’m digging sweet potatoes anyway, and sweet potatoes are perennials and the roots have the same genetics as the sweet potato, now is the perfect time to start the sweet potato slips for next year’s crop. As I dig the sweet potatoes from the ground, instead of throwing the roots onto the compost pile, I put them in a bucket and take them indoors.
If the weather is not too hot, I have just put the sweet potato vines and roots into a bucket, then in an hour or so taken the vines and roots into the house to process and still had success. However, a better solution is to have a bucket of water to put the vines and roots in so that they don’t die before I can take care of them.
Last year, I pulled up the roots and just planted them in a shallow tray. This year I am trying something a little different. I am cutting the stems from the roots and cutting leaf segments and then placing them in water until they start to sprout roots or leaves respectively. Once they sprout, I’ll transfer the segments into soil This will not only make transplanting into the shallow trays easier but will also make it easier to plant the young plants in the garden come spring.
Once the leaves start growing on the sweet potatoes, I can also harvest the leaves all winter and eat them fresh in salads or steamed as side dish of greens with my winter meals for added nutrition. These leaves are delicious and can be eaten raw or steamed and has a higher nutritional value than the sweet potato tubers.
Try this method when growing your own sweet potatoes. I am sure that you will find that done right, you’ll have more sweet potatoes than you know what to do with them!
For more information about growing vegetables that can be stored throughout the winter without canning, freezing, or dehydrating, purchase my new book The Survival Garden!