Sweet Potato Harvest, Part 1

Here is our long awaited first real sweet potato harvest. We grew a few last year, but they didn’t amount to much. I even kept a few small ones that had started to sprout and planted them in the herb bed. I wanted to see which type produced the best. I didn’t keep the names of the varieties I planted so they will just be generic for now. We dug and ate a few of these a week or so back and they were good. Here is the growing season in review.

Planted in late April

May – in between the Purple Hull Peas (left) and the Kentucky Wonder green beans

June – the Purple Hulls make the sweet potato vines look small

July – the vines are starting to fill up the area I gave them

August – still growing strong

September – the peas are dying out and the sweet potato vines are still spreading

When I planted these, I read about their vining characteristics. Some people tend to keep the vines cut back so the energy will go into developing the tubers under the original plant. I read that if you let them vine out, you never know where you might find potatoes. They are also apt to be smaller. As the vines spread, they root along the way forming potatoes here and yon. It’s true, they do. So next year, I will keep them trimmed back. It’s a lot of digging for a smaller harvest.

October – harvest time

I thought about mowing the vines down before I started digging, but decided to see if the chickens and goats liked the vines first. We are expecting some rather heavy rain and I wanted to get at least some of the bed dug before
that happened.  It is already rather late in the season to be harvesting, but sometimes that is how things happen. We don’t always get everything done we would like. Sweet potatoes like to be cured in about 80 degree weather. 
Ours will have to make due with about 60 to 70 degrees. So I pulled up a bunch of the vines to clear off a couple of the original hills I planted. As I pulled them up, I could see the roots from the vines breaking off. That’s the area where the small potatoes were found.


I took this pile of vines to the chickens to see if they would like a snack. At first it scared them and they all ran back in the chicken house.

It took a few minutes of standing on top of the steps to decide this vine, which could look like a snake, I guess, wasn’t going to hurt them.

Then the rooster led them down the steps and called everyone to come eat. They all started eating until one of them dragged a vine a little ways, then they all scattered again for a minute.

It’s nice to know they will eat the vines. Next summer when I trim back the vines, I will feed them to the chickens.

So, back to work. Here is the first hill I dug and the first potato I found.  I’m sure we won’t find all of them. But according to what I have read, they also won’t survive the 
winter, but will rot. So I’m not really worried about them coming up all over the place. If some do come up I will dig them up and transplant them to the new patch.

This first hill produced this much. The smaller potatoes were found in the areas between hills. They are small and really not worth the
effort of so much more digging.  

The second hill looked like it had a mouse hole in it, but I didn’t see any signs of damage to the potatoes.

I started digging about a foot from the hill and found potatoes in the first spade full of dirt, so I backed up another foot to dig through this hill. I didn’t expect to find any good sized potatoes that far from the hill, but I was pleasantly surprised. 

Harvest from the second hill

This is the area I cleared for the first two hills.

The third and fourth hills were relatively close together so I dug them both up at once. This was going to be all for one day.

I had a pretty good pile of vines to feed the chickens and goats, but by feeding time, we were getting some steady rain.

Harvest from the third and fourth hills. I put a popsicle stick by the largest potato to give a reference for size.


Some of the potatoes have cracks in them, so we will need to eat them first. Since the small ones will not keep long, we will try canning them in a few weeks. For now they will spend some time on the west porch away from the rain, but with a chance for some warm afternoon sun as they cure the best they can in our cool, fall weather. We will have to wait for the ground to dry out some after this rainy spell before we can harvest the rest.
Remember, just because everything doesn’t come out perfect or according to plan, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. These potatoes are just one more piece of our overall food storage. The only way we will ever build it up is to keep adding to it a little at a time. 
Until next time – Fern
P.S. We’ve had a nasty flu around here. I had it first and I was nice enough to share it with Frank, so the next radio post will be delayed for a few days.