Growing and Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

Today we had the fun experience of harvesting sweet potatoes. Here in PA, we aim to harvest them before the first fall frost which is still nearly a month away. We could have waited a few weeks to let the potatoes get a bit bigger, but sometimes we just harvest when you get the itch!

Getting started growing sweet potatoes
Growing sweet potatoes is very easy, but it requires some patience and forethought. We started back in Feb/March during the winter by visiting our local grocery store and selecting a few small sweet potatoes. Next, we place them in mason jars that with water covering about 1/3 of the tuber. To keep the tuber still, we placed large skewers (broken into smaller lengths) like one would use for grilling into the top of the tuber so that the tuber’s weight rested on these skewers keeping the bottom of the tuber off the bottom of the jar. This is because some of the slips that begin to grow do so from the bottom. It’s just a preference of ours.

How long will they take to sprout!?
After several months (like 2-3), we had healthy slips growing from the submersed tubers. It will seem like forever before they start to grow. They might not grow, but give it a chance! About 1-2 weeks before you intend to plant the slips, remove them from the submersed tuber and place them in their own jar of water. They will re-sprout “water roots”. These will be important for getting the plant established.

When to plant outdoors
When the soil is good and warm (sometime in May for us) , mound up some well cultivated soil into a pretty large furrow. You want the mound to be deep enough to allow for some good tuber growth. Make sure the soil is well cultivated. We added a little bit of composted horse manure and also some peet moss as well. Next, cover the mound with black plastic or landscape fabric, then punch 1″ or so holes about every 18″. We only ended up with 6 usable “slips” from the above process, so we spaced ours out a bit more. Use a stick or something similar to drive through the holes in the black plastic/fabric down into the soil a good 12″ or so. Place a slip in each one, then lightly pack the soil back around the slip and water each slip well. Over the growing season, be sure to occasionally side-dress the tubers with some fertilizer (we use fish emulsion). In several weeks, the slips will start to expand and voraciously cover the surrounding area. It will be somewhat invasive at times, so bear this in mind when choosing a location to plant!

How long do they take to grow and how do you harvest?
Most varieties take from 95-110 days to mature. When that much time has elapsed, or just before the first fall frost, pull back some of the black ground cover and paw around the base of one of the plants. You should find some nice-sized tubers!

This is what a cluster of tubers will look like when you start to paw around

This is what a cluster of tubers will look like when you start to paw around

To harvest, remove the top ground cover of the plant, pull back the black ground cover and gently start to paw around where the base of each slip had been planted. You should find collections of 6-10 tubers where each slip had been with occasional tubers in between or at the edges. We use our hands to harvest and it’s something nearly the whole family enjoys. Harvesting tubers is a very kid-friendly thing to do. You’ll want to encourage your children not to pull on the tubers too hard, and not to use tools that will pierce the potatoes. Aside from that, it’s kind of like digging for treasure.

Once harvested, allow to sit for 6-8 hours in the sun, then move indoors to a warm (70-80℉) room for another week or so before placing in storage. Sweet potatoes should hold up well in a cool dry place for the winter (root cellar, garage, basement, etc).

Gotchas!
We found that deer really like to eat the sweet potato greens. See our previous post about deer repellent to read how we prevented this. Also, it’s important to regularly inspect the area surrounding your black ground cover. It’s quite common for burrowing rodents to sneak under their and harvest your tubers for you! Perhaps a cat could help with this task ;-)

How about yield?
Only 5 out of our 6 slips survived because one snapped while planting. For each slip planted, we grew approximately 6-10 tubers averaging about 3-4 lbs. of tubers per slip. Next year we’re planning on planting quite a few more slips and planting them closer together which would have given us a higher yield. For our family of five, we grew just about the number of potatoes we’d eat over the winter months. We might use 3-4 tubers in one meal and eat them every other week or so at most, so this is sufficient yield for us. We would prefer to grow about 20-30% more than we require to share with others, account for spoilage, and also to set aside some for next year’s seed.

Our harvest of Sweet Potatoes from 5 slips

Our harvest of Sweet Potatoes from 5 slips

What about the greens?
We’ve read that some people harvest and eat the sweet potato greens as well. Apparently in Japan, their quite common. We’ve never done so. Today, we fed our greens to the chickens to give them some nutritious snacks.

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16 responses to “Growing and Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

  • Pretty Project

    I LOVE sweet potatoes but they look kind of unappetizing in the pic. Ha! :)

  • Rebekah

    Thank you SO much for this post. I have sweet potatoes growing, but not properly in my home garden in Hawaii. When I started them, I did not realize that Hawaiians plant them in mounds of soil above ground level. My potatoes came out in really odd shapes because all I have below the surface is rocks. Therefore, I am redesigning the garden to do the sweet potatoes correctly. Thank you for the information on the preparation, harvesting, timing, etc. I let the potatoes grow for the young tops. They are very nutritious. I pick the leaves, wash, and blanche them. After blanching, you can chop roughly and freeze. Use like spinach. Try stir-frying with a little olive oil, minced onion, and teriyaki flavoring. All the best. Rebekah

  • pesoto74

    Thanks for the info. I thought about growing some sweet potatoes this year. Hopefully, I will get around to it next year. It sounds like the yield would be worth the effort.

  • johnathan

    an easer way to get more slips or vines to root is to just plant the tuber in soil , keep watered , and let them grow then dig them up cut them and root them i got about 40 slips off about 5 or 6 tubers that way

    • agscheidle

      Johnathan,
      Thanks for the insight and tip. Do you plant the tuber indoors or outside? Do you cut the tuber first (like a seed potato), or just plant the whole thing?

      Thanks,
      JTS

  • Time to think about gardening! « The Journey To Simple

    [...] and sweet potato slips that we’ll start ourselves this weekend likely (see prior post on growing sweet potatoes). This year we aim to grow several thousand pounds of produce. Yes, you read that right several [...]

  • patrickbyrd

    Ah just what I was looking for, the time it takes for the potato to sprout from when you put it in the water… MUCH longer than expected. Good info, thanks!

  • minervino

    potato is new experience in my garden…like potato

  • Kefir Grains

    Wow that potatoes looks so big and healthy. What soil do u use? Thank you for the post by the way.

  • yolanda

    Thank you for all the information; and the pictures.
    I’m growing sweet potatoes in container this year 2010 and they have come good, but I don’t knew about the black ground cover, may be for that reason some of them have come out of the soil.
    Again thank you very much; next year I will use the ground cover and it will be a dream come true.

    I get 5 slips from each of the 3 sweet potatoes that I put in 3 separated yogurt containers holding them with 3 toothpick each one, adding water to cover 3/4 of the container, and leaving them in my sunny window seal from the second week of march,the slip star appearing by the first week of April. I transfer the slip to the container one slips for container by the end of April beginning of may.
    I keep 4 plants for me and give the rest away, and everyone have had some potatoes.
    For next year I will do beater thank you to the good information I have found hire.

  • PAT testing

    Just about to start our first harvest!

  • ziggy

    The greens are indeed delicious. We started eating them this year… cooked in some olive oil with curry powder and soy sauce, they are divine. Mmm.

  • artzent

    I planted Sweet potatoes for the first time.I have noticed beautiful flowers here and there. Am I supposed to get a lot of flowers or is it ok to get only a few?

    • Simple Family

      I would be more concerned with a lack of flowers (since that could make pollination difficult). However, I don’t know that I’d be concerned about too many, so long as I knew I had planted a variety of sweet potatoes that was for edible purposes. Many nurseries and green houses sell an ornamental variety of sweet potato that doesn’t produce edible tubers, but sure looks nice!

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