Sweet Potatoes are the treasure of harvest time. I get excited just like I did as a little girl helping my grandfather dig them. Let’s get digging into these tips for digging and storing sweet potatoes so your treasure lasts you all winter long.
I love sweet potatoes. Everything about them is wonderful to me. They are one of the most nutritious foods you can grow in your garden. The old-timers say they help you keep your night vision and prevent cancer. Modern science has proven them right. They are a powerhouse of nutrition and energy!
All winter I look forward to sprouting them in the spring, planting the slips, watching them grow into beautiful green vines with lovely purple flowers, and best of all digging them up! It always feels like I am finding treasures.
There are so many surprises under the dirt. You will find odd shapes and sizes. The tendrils go everywhere and grow one potato off by itself, but you just have to follow the tendril to get that one potato.
We find mice tunnels and mice, EEEK! Luckily for me, Roxie and J were there to take care of them for me. It is also a good opportunity to see the condition of the soil. We are always glad to see so many large red worms. They are a sign of healthy soil.
This year we planted 6 rows 22 feet long and got almost 475# of sweet potatoes! Wow! They range in size from large casserole-making ones to small doggie treat sizes.
There are so many different looks to them and digging and storing sweet potatoes is so much fun. I feel like a kid again!
Tips for Digging and Storing Sweet Potatoes
The big questions are When to dig and How to dig sweet potatoes. Let’s get digging into the answers to these questions.
When to dig sweet potatoes
This is the more difficult of the two questions. The last few weeks of the season, September to October depending on where you live, is when the sweet potatoes grow the most and set their flavor.
If you plant too early or harvest too early, you won’t get as nice a potato. They will be small, thin, and low-starch (not sweet). The more mature a sweet potato is, the better it will heal from cuts, scrapes, and nicks.
If you just can’t stand it, and you know I can’t, dig up a hill and check the size and number of the potatoes in it. If you are happy with what you find, dig them up.
You really can’t judge a sweet potato’s readiness by its vine. They will bloom right up until a hard frost.
When my vines look wilty and we have enjoyed a few cooler nights and mornings, we dig them. I say we, but you know that I mean J digs and I pick up. If your plants get hard-bitten by frost, the vines will turn black and you must dig your potatoes right away.
How We Dig Sweet Potatoes
The first step to digging your sweet potatoes is to pull all the vines up. They will detach without much effort but if you get a stubborn one, use your garden shears and cut it off even with the ground.
My grandfather dug his potatoes by running a single plow on the outside of each row and then they were picked up and dug out by hand. I don’t have a single plow so J takes a shovel and starts at one end of the row, and digs under the hill.
He throws the dirt out one shovel full at a time so that it is sifted and I can see any potatoes hiding in clumps. The other potatoes are in the row and I pick them up. I love it when he uncovers a mound of them and I get to dig them out by hand.
How to Cure Sweet Potatoes
Once your potatoes are dug, they need to cure. This is just to let them have some time to heal over cuts, scrapes, and nicks.
Be sure you don’t dig while the soil is wet because this will prolong your curing time. I put mine on a tarp on the back porch so the sun can hit them easily. You could use a table or anything that would allow them plenty of space. You don’t want them stacked on top of one another.
They should all be laid out for air and sun to hit them. Let them sit for 2-3 days. If you are not in the south like me, where temps are often in the 80s during the day in October, you will need to let them sit out for 10 – 14 days before storing.
The temperature needs to be 80 or above during these days. They like humid air when they are drying too, so if it is really dry, you can put a damp sheet or towel over them to create a more humid environment.
The old-timers used to dig them a little at a time and put them around the woodstove or in the attic area around the stove pipe to cure. You could put them near your furnace, or some other heat source, just be sure not to overheat them.
Once they are cured, you need to separate them for storage.
How to Store Sweet Potatoes
You will need to put the ones that are bruised or have been cut where you can use them first. I use baskets and crates for our storage bins, but you can use whatever you have.
In storage, they need to be dry and cool so keep this in mind. Sweet potatoes will keep 3-5 months under most circumstances.
- The nice size ones that have no bug holes, cuts, or bruises go into my long-term storage bin. This means I will use them last since they are in good enough shape to keep well into late winter, early spring.
- The really small ones I put in a basket that I use for doggie treats and for boiling to make candied potatoes, eating raw, or such.
- The medium-sized ones that have some damage or I am not sure about, go into another bin for baking, boiling, frying, just whatever I need them for.
- The large, ugly monster ones have their own bin and I bake them for casseroles and pies. The larger ones can be stringy. Sweet Potatoes tend to get stringy when it is very dry or they are in the ground too long.
The longer they are in storage, the sweeter they become. Keep an eye on them by doing a quick check every time you get some to use or at least once a week.
If you see some shriveling or looking otherwise faint, you can bake a batch and then freeze them, can them, or dehydrate them to keep from losing them.
How to Freeze Sweet Potatoes for Storage
My grandmother had some in burlap bags she hung from the ceiling in the pantry area of her dining room and she kept some under hay in the shed beside the house.
You know I don’t freeze much of our food. The electrical system in our country is too fragile for me to trust with our food supply. On those occasions when I do freeze sweet potatoes, I do it like my grandmother did.
She baked large batches, let them cool, then wrapped them in freezer paper and put them in the freezer until she wanted them. She would thaw them out, heat them up, and they were delicious.
I told you how to freeze them, canning them is just as easy.
How to Can Sweet Potatoes for Storage
- Wash the sweet potatoes you are going to can.
- Peel them and cut away any damaged portions.
- Cut them into the size pieces you want.
- Cook them in boiling water or steam for 20- 30 minutes until softened.
- Dry pack them into jars by filling the jar with the cooked pieces. Leave a 1″ headspace then put the cap and lid on.
- OR you can hot pack. Fill the jar with the cooked pieces and add some of the boiling water they were cooked in. Leave 1″ headspace in the jar.
- Process in a pressure canner for 90 minutes. My canner is a weighted gauge canner and I set it at 10 pounds of pressure weight.
- Don’t forget to adjust the weight to 15 pounds if you are over 1000 feet above sea level.
- A dial gauge canner should be set at 11 pounds from 0-2000 feet above sea level and adjusted one pound up for every 2000 feet above that: if you are 2001-4000 feet you would use 12 pounds; 4001-6000 feet you would use 13 pounds; so on and so on.
Dehydrating Sweet Potatoes for Storage
Dehydrating them is easy. I dehydrate almost all of our harvest, I can very little anymore. Dehydrating saves me space and time, both of which I am always short on.
- Wash the sweet potatoes you want to dehyrate.
- You have the option to leave the skin on, which I do, or remove it.
- Peel on or peeled, you now cut away any damaged portion of the potatoes.
- Slice them into 1/8 inch thick slices
- Layer them in single layers on your drying trays.
- Set your dehydrater at 115-118 degrees F. This lower temperature takes longer, but it doesn’t kill the enzymes in the food.
- They will be brittle when done and it should take between 11-18 hours depending on your humidity.
Remember, don’t be afraid of digging and storing sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes will keep 3-5 months under most circumstances and there are so many uses for them: casseroles, pies, mashed, french fries, baked, fried, boiled, breakfast casseroles, soups,…oh my the list goes on and on.
Ever since I was a little girl digging sweet potatoes has been one of my favorite garden chores. How about you?