We grow sweet potatoes every year, because they’re healthy and tasty and because they keep well through the winter with no refrigeration or processing.
We’ve had difficulty getting them to grow well, though. Here’s our experience:
- 2009 – We got only one shovel full. The main problem was that the deer ate the foliage
- 2010 – We got four small baskets. Much better than the preceding year, but still not as many as we needed to be well-prepared
- 2011 – Our best crop to that point. We filled up 5-6 baskets. They were bent and misshapen, however, which we attributed to the hard rocky soil in which they were trying to grow.
- 2012 – The biggest disappointment yet. We had high hopes for a crop that had been growing in a raised bed in nice rich soil, but the voles attacked them below ground. All the potatoes were chewed, bitten off, and/or rotten. We got NOTHING in 2012, not a single sweet potato.
So you can forgive us for approaching sweet potato harvesting time this year with a fair amount of trepidation, knowing as we did how many things could go wrong. I remember actually feeling butterflies as I was removing the trellised foliage from bed #1 so we could dig for the potatoes beneath.
We are thrilled to report that we got a good harvest, the best ever. The transplants came in 9-packs from Tallassee True Value and we bought three packs, so we planted 27 plants. We used raised bed #1, one of the four that we have equipped with hardware cloth to keep the voles out. We set up a trellis of hog wire strung between two t-posts, which allowed the foliage to grow aggressively without spilling out of the bed onto the turf. They were drip irrigated throughout the summer but probably would have been fine this summer without it, because we got so much rain.
I started using the spade fork to dig, but Amanda quickly called me off when she saw my fork was injuring the potatoes, and we knew that unblemished potatoes keep much better than injured ones. We just started digging for them in the soft soil with our gloved hands.
We stopped trying to put them in baskets. We don’t have bushel baskets, and the 1/4 bushel baskets we use for most produce just didn’t hold enough to be useful. Enter the buckets. Still sweating from digging in the ground, we ended up with six 5-gallon buckets filled with sweet potatoes, or about 30 gallons of potatoes.
They’re not yet ready to eat. They need to cure for a week or two and get lots of fresh air, so we have them spread out on the shop floor and will leave the door open so they can breathe. After they’re cured, we’ll store them in the root cellar and hope they last us well into the winter.