Pin It

It’s time to harvest sweet potatoes!!

by Cristina on October 7, 2012

67.8 pounds. That’s how many sweet potatoes I harvested from the garden yesterday. Let me tell you: 67.8 pounds is a lot of sweet potatoes. Two full boxes worth, with overflow in mixing bowls and all over the kitchen counter.

Looks like I’ll be needing to stock up on sweet potato recipes for this winter. If you’ve got any favorites to share, please post them in the comments below. Thank you!

freshly-harvested sweet potato

If you grew sweet potatoes this year, it’s about time to unearth your harvest too.

There’s no real trick for harvesting sweets. There’s no sign that they are ready. In fact, there’s no magical “ready” time. Sweet potatoes, like regular potatoes, don’t ripen. They just grow larger and more numerous. So, the longer you let your sweet potatoes grow, the larger your harvest will be. But, if you only have a short growing season or discover you’ve got smaller-than-expected tubers, don’t sweat it. Those roots should taste just like the larger ones you’d imagined.

Here, in Virginia, it’s best to harvest sweet potatoes just before the first frost. This gives us a growing season of roughly three to four months, or 90 to 120 days. That’s perfect for most sweets.

If you’re further north, you’ll want to do the same thing; harvest your sweet potatoes as late as possible. Just watch the weather report, and head out to dig up your sweets when you start seeing weather forecasts with nighttime temperatures in the low 40s or 30s. Above all, do your best to harvest your sweets before the first frost. These are tropical plants. They do not appreciate freezing temperatures, and the cold can cause chilling-injury on the tubers.

If you’re further south then Virginia, you may have a growing season that’s far longer than 90-120 days. Don’t wait for that first frost, or those first cold nights. Instead, look at your calendar, and plan to harvest your sweets about 120 days after you planted them. You can start harvesting as early as 90 days, but should probably finish harvesting by the time your plants are 150 days old — the tubers can grow to be too large, which makes them harder to store. For most sweet potatoes, 120 days of growth is about ideal.

No matter where you live, harvest your sweets with care. The tubers look tough and indestructible, but they bruise easily. And, those bruises can turn to bad spots if you’re planning on storing these tubers for a while. So, treat them gently. Don’t throw your sweets. Don’t drop them. Handle them like eggs, and you should be golden.

If you grew your sweets in containers, simply dump the dirt out and root around for your harvest. If you went the traditional route, and planted you sweet potatoes in the ground, you’ve got some digging ahead of you. Grab a digging fork and start turning the soil beneath your plant. Most varieties of sweet potatoes will hide most of their edible tubers near the base of the plant, but some sprawl further. Expect to dig up an area about the size of a hulu hoop around your plants.

You may also need to dig if you grew in containers. Sweet potatoes are stubborn plants, and their roots will find any crack or hole in the container. Many of my sweets escaped their bushel baskets and buried some roots under their containers, for example.

getting ready to harvest a sweet potato plant

digging up sweet potatoes

It’s no wonder the sweets escaped. Bushel baskets, it seems, are only good for one or two seasons in the garden. Mine are at the end of their second year, and obviously won’t be seeing a third year of use in the garden. Looks like I’ll be buying more bushel baskets next spring.

bushel baskets only last one or two seasons

However you harvest them, do so slowly and gently. You want to avoid puncturing or damaging the roots as much as possible. Also, if you can resist, don’t wash the dirt off them. You want the roots to dry as quickly as possible, and the dirt won’t hurt them (or you).

Now, stop. If you can, try to resist cooking up your crop right away. I’ve read that sweet potatoes need a bit of curing before their full flavor develops, and that a few months of rest is best, if you can hold out that long.

I honestly haven’t tested this theory yet. I’ve always just stored the roots, and waited until November or so before roasting up my first sweets. This year, I’m going to see what a just-harvested sweet potato tastes like. Way I figure, with nearly 70 pounds of sweet potatoes in my kitchen, I’ve got enough on hand to do a little experimenting. And, yes, once I’ve cooked and tasted that first sweet potato, I’ll report back.

[Update: The theory is correct. Just-harvested sweet potatoes taste nothing like you'd hope. I roasted one last night and served it with lots of butter and a dash of salt and pepper, my favorite easy sweet potato dish. I ate it all (because, hey, sweet potato!), but the taste was flat. Hollow. Like a low-quality photocopy of a beautiful photograph. If you can't resist eating your just-harvested sweets, you may want to use them in dishes that need bulk without flavor. But, if you can hold off for a couple months, I suspect the wait will be worth it.]

Regardless of the taste quality of just-picked sweets, you probably have enough roots on hand that you’ll need to store some of them. That means you’ll need to cure them. And, that means you’ll need to provide your sweets with a warm (nearly hot) and moist environment for about a week.

Last year, I cured my sweets in a storage container with water in the bottom (not touching the roots) and a light bulb for heat. This year, I’m going to use the spare closet in the guest room. I’ll be setting this up today, and will post more once I’ve got some photos to share. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you want to read about how to cure your sweets right now, check out this article in Mother Earth News: Grow Sweet Potatoes — Even in the North.

[Update: I never got around to doing anything fancy with these sweet potatoes. I totally skipped the curing, and jumped straight to storing. Simply stored the sweets in boxes, in a dark, unused closet at a temperature of approximately 65°F. Worked great, and very easy.]

nearly 70 pounds of sweet potatoes

Few crops produce a larger harvest from a smaller investment than sweet potatoes. In fact, I’ve read that sweet potatoes produce more calories per acre than any other crop. After harvesting nearly 70 pounds from a dozen containers in my front yard, I believe it. And, it’s not just the density of the harvest. The rate of return is also amazing.

Here’s how the numbers work. I planted 18 sweet potato slips this spring, all started from two tubers I’d saved from my 2011 harvest. [click here to learn how to start your own slips.] I didn’t weigh those roots, but let’s estimate they weighed two pounds total.

You see why I like this rate of return? Two pounds of sweet potato investment for 67.8 pounds of sweet potato harvest. And, actually, it’s better than that. Those original two pounds of sweet potatoes produced more slips than I needed. I gave a couple to a friend — who just harvested nearly ten pounds of gorgeous roots — and a few to my cousin. I’m not sure what the final tally will be from my cousin’s plants, but let’s assume another ten pounds.

That’s 87.8 pounds of sweet potatoes from the slips grown off about two pounds of roots. Since we’re already estimating, let’s just round up to 90 pounds. That’s a 45-to-1 rate of return.

Forget the stock market. We should all be investing in sweet potatoes.

The numbers might be even more impressive if I had grown all my sweets in full sun (several languished in shade, and only gave me a pound of harvestable roots each). Since most of my plants produced about five pounds of roots each, and most sweet potatoes will produce 10-15 (or more!) slips from a single root, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a 50-to-1 rate of return on sweet potatoes. Start the season with a one-pound tuber. Grow your own slips from that tuber. Plant those slips. Then, harvest about 50 pounds in the fall. Or more!

sweet potato harvest

Did you grow sweet potatoes this year? Have you harvested yet? Are you happy or disappointed with the harvest? Planning on growing them again next year? I’d love to hear about your sweet potato experiences from this summer. Please share your stories in the comments section below.

And, stay tuned for a post about how to cure your sweets.

* * *

If you liked this post, you will love the new Sweet Potato Grow Guide. It’s a 45-page ebook that covers everything from starting your sweets in the spring to harvesting them in the fall, with lots of tips about keeping them happy all summer long. You can get your copy here ––> Sweet Potato Grow Guide.

m4s0n501

Sign up for email updates from the Outlaw Garden

You'll be among the first to know about new blog posts, planting tips and more! Click here to subscribe.

{ 89 comments… read them below or add one }

Alice October 7, 2012 at 2:04 pm

No i did not plant any this year, did not get to thinking on it until too late but certainly plan on doing it next ‘if the good Lords willing and the Devil dosen’t care’..
Those are certainly pretty that you have there and especially the bigger ones, and you can use the small ones to stew, freeze, make pies or put a small amount in raw salads; would not use too many that way for might cause diarrhea, at least they do to me. Good luck with them.

Reply

Cristina October 8, 2012 at 9:03 am

Thanks for the recipe suggestions, Alice! I’m excited to experiment with these sweets in the kitchen. It’s going to be a tasty winter!

Reply

Jill October 7, 2012 at 8:51 pm

What an amazing harvest! I am going to harvest my 2 experimental pots tomorrow. They never flowered but did get some foliage so I’m worried that they’ll be no tubers, but this is my first yr so I haven’t a clue!

Reply

Cristina October 8, 2012 at 8:34 am

Thanks, Jill! And, good luck with your own harvest! I wouldn’t worry too much about the lack of flowers; some varieties of sweet potatoes don’t produce flowers.

Reply

Becky October 8, 2012 at 8:20 am

Congrats on a great harvest! We’re in New Jersey, so maybe I will give these a try next year!

Reply

Cristina October 8, 2012 at 8:41 am

Thanks so much, Becky! Sweets are definitely worth a try. So easy, attractive and delicious. Check out this post for tips on starting your own slips next spring: Grow Your Own Sweet Potatoes. Or, you can order slips from just about any gardening catalog. Good luck with them next year!

Reply

Carolyn October 8, 2012 at 8:34 am

I planted sweet potatoes for the first time this year. I grew slips from potatoes left behind by a farmer after harvest, so zero dollars invested! I used containers on my back deck. The harvest was small, as were the potatoes, I suppose due to limited sun. I have saved the two largest for next year, and will grow them in a sunnier location. The rest (very small) I made into sweet potato chips and fries…couldn’t wait to cure them! I am a New Englander recently transplanted in Tennessee….dealing with the climate, the HOA rules and a difficult neighbor has been a challenge, but I will soldier on! Sweet potatoes in the FRONT yard next year!

Reply

Cristina October 8, 2012 at 8:45 am

Fantastic, Carolyn! I love your determination! The really nice thing about sweet potatoes — as I’m sure you noticed with your plants this year — is that they are really good looking plants. Some vegetables look a little sad or worn out by the end of the summer, but not sweet potatoes. They’re a great choice for front yard growing!

And, yes, you’re probably right that lack of sun contributed to the smaller tubers. I’ve noticed the same thing here. My biggest tubers and best-producing plants were all in full or nearly full sun.

I bet those fries and chips were delicious. Yum!

Reply

SHELLY October 8, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Wow that’s alot of sweet potatoes! Look how much you are saving! That are looking great. I love it! Thank you for sharing!

Reply

Dan October 10, 2012 at 11:42 am

I’m in NoVA and this year was my first attempt at growing sweets. I bought slips for 3 different types of sweet potatoes: Georgia Jets, Centennials & Porto Ricos. The Centennials didn’t take, but I probably didn’t take care of them properly before planting. The Porto Ricos didn’t fair much better, but I was able to get a couple small potatoes from which I’m going to get slips for next year. The Georgia Jets worked the best, though I was still disappointed with the small harvest. The yard has very little top soil and lots of red clay which doesn’t make for a good growing environment. More preparation is needed for the next time so after the harvest, I dug down further, with the help of my neighbor (he’s the real gardener; we share the back yard behind our townhouses) and filled it with compost, hay and top soil. We’ve got some leafy plants in there for the winter, but I’m looking forward to planting more sweets there next spring, including the Porto Ricos. I also have a bin growing slips from a store-bought sweet potato this summer. I’m holding out as long as possible to harvest those… maybe at the end of October.

Reply

Cristina October 13, 2012 at 10:22 am

Sounds fantastic, Dan! You may be right that the dense clay soil affected your harvest; sweets do seem to grow best in loose or sandy soil. With all that prep work you’ve done this fall, you should have some very happy plants next year!

Virginia red clay does make for some interesting gardening challenges, doesn’t it?

Reply

Rose November 14, 2012 at 11:21 pm

My goodness, those are some beautiful sweet potatoes! I’m going to start a container garden next year, and will definitely be growing some sweet potatoes. Thank you for your posts on how to grow and harvest them :)

Reply

oune December 2, 2012 at 9:58 am

I was inspired by your post last year and grew some sweet potatoes in my garden this year. I planted my slips in May and harvested them in November. But unlike yours mine was not a success story. My sweets came out very small. I don’t know if it just didn’t like the soil or if I didn’t water enough. My largest sweet is about the size of my hand. Oh well I will try again next year. Any advice would be much appreciated…

Reply

Cristina December 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Congratulations on your harvest! There are many many variables with sweets (as with every vegetable). Yours may have been smaller because of the variety you grew, the soil they grew in, or their growing conditions (sunlight, heat, water, etc). I can’t tell you why your sweets were smaller (though, hand-sized is certainly not too small). But, I can tell you that, as a rule, they prefer consistent heat, sandy and mildly fertile soil, and full sun. My best harvests have come from plants that get full exposure to the sun, and my smallest harvests have come from plants that get only a partial dose of sun. I hope you’ll try them again next year!

Reply

Melissa January 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm

I have fallen in love with your blog! Thank you so much for putting so much info out here for us all to learn from. My question is on growing in burlap sacks. I live in the Tampa area of Florida and was am wondering if this area would be too hot for them above ground. Our sand is definitely sandy but kind of afraid of letting the run loose in ground. lol.

Reply

Cristina January 25, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Thanks, Melissa! So glad you’re finding useful stuff here!

I’m afraid I don’t have a definite answer for you about burlap sacks, just because I’m never gardened in your climate. My guess would be that they might dry out too quickly, but I’m not certain about that. Maybe a container that’s a bit less permeable, like a large pot or a half whiskey barrel? Or, you could just experiment; try growing a couple sweet potatoes in different containers (including those burlap sacks), and then compare your harvests at season’s end. Whatever you do, good luck with the sweet potatoes and please report back with your results!

Reply

Connie Bye February 13, 2013 at 11:40 pm

I just read your blog. Great information!
I have a wonderful recipe that I use often:
http://www.williams-kitchen.com/2012/11/sweet-potato-hash-egg-bake/

Reply

Cristina February 14, 2013 at 7:59 am

Looks delicious! Thanks for sharing!

Reply

allison1998 May 9, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Earlier this year I found your website through Pinterest and have been anxiously awaiting the time when I could start my sweet potato garden. I am from NC and know exactly what type of soil you have! This will be my first year container gardening.

I didnt grow my own slips (too impatient for that!), instead I purchased (2) 9-pack containers of Beauregard sweet potato slips from the local Wal-Mart. I also found a local store that sells bushel baskets and purchased 5 of them, although I need about a dozen more. We will see how it goes. I will report back.

Here is another sweet potato souffle recipe that I have made before. http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/sweet-potato-souffl-10000000521202/

Reply

Cristina May 9, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Good luck with your sweets! Also, that recipe looks great! Thanks for sharing.

Reply

Amber June 2, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Thanks for all of the great info. I am wondering if you tried/had any luck lining your bushel baskets like you talked about trying. Also, I have my own slips that I started and have been keeping in water (I didn’t realize you should just plant them in a small pot until time to plant outside), some of them are getting quite large and lots of roots… do you think these big girls will take planting well? I plan to plant them any day now, but I am still debating on where ie. in ground or planter. I live near orchards, so I think I could round up some bushel baskets.

Reply

Cristina June 3, 2013 at 7:45 am

Hi Amber – I haven’t tried lining my baskets yet, simply because I haven’t planted out my sweets yet. Waiting just a tiny bit longer for the heat to really settle in… But! I know that sweets will grow happily in unlined baskets too, so don’t sweat it if you decide to skip that step.

Your slips sound wonderfully healthy! They should transplant just fine. Just remember to keep them well-watered for their first week or so in the garden, just like any transplant.

Good luck with your sweet potatoes!

Reply

tad June 8, 2013 at 6:27 pm

i usually get about 3-5 lbs per slip of beauregard and frazier white

Reply

Alice W. June 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm

tad, Beauregard is what I planted; had 50 slips in all, but think about only 25-30 might make it; say I get 4 pounds from each slip and say 27 make it that will be about 108 lbs. sweets. Jesus where will I put them?

Reply

Heidi July 4, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Even though we have a garden I like to container garden for decoration on the deck. I had a couple of sweet potatoes that had started to eye so I used what I could for mashed potatoes and planted the eyes. We have a nice plant now. Can’t wait to see what it produces.

Reply

Kathy Pierce August 25, 2013 at 5:37 am

I had a store bought sweet potatoe that sprouted roots and some green leaves I cut it in half and stuck it in 2 pots and started watering. I now have 2 beautiful big plants. I live in AZ they get plenty of sunshine and water I haven’t harvested them yet will let you know results when I do.

Reply

Erin August 25, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I just came across your posting looking for the best ways to store sweet potatoes in a home without a cellar or basement. We just harvested about 22 lbs. What do you do with yours? I am learning it is best to keep them in about 60 degrees, but we don’t keep our home that cool (who does?). Any suggestions?

Reply

Cristina August 26, 2013 at 6:44 am

Hi Erin — Congratulations on your harvest! Sweets seem to be fairly non-picky about their storage conditions. They definitely don’t appreciate a chill (so, keep them out of the fridge), but are otherwise fairly fuss-free. I keep mine in open plastic tubs that I stash in an unused closet. Temperatures range from mid-60s to mid-70s, and they seem to do just fine.

Reply

Deanna September 6, 2013 at 1:43 am

This is my first year for sweet potato. Can you tell me how to save for next year. I am assuming you save a potato and cut the eyes and replant in spring? I planted in late June I thing but may have been late May we are in central AR and not sure when to harvest but the sweets are mounding out of the ground at the base of all my plants. Will it hurt to leave them in the ground till the weather cools?

Reply

Cristina September 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Congrats on your sweet potatoes! You’ll find a lot of information about growing them here, including in the comments: http://www.outlawgarden.com/2012/04/25/grow-your-own-sweet-potatoes/

In short, sweets want 90-120 days of solid growing before harvest. Since you planted late June, you probably want to leave them in the ground until just before your first frost. Just don’t leave them longer than that — once frost kills the plant, the tubers will rot very quickly. As for saving, just toss a few roots in an out-of-the-way place (I use a closet) and ignore them until early spring. The blog post I linked above will give you tips on starting your plants next spring.

Reply

Guy October 8, 2013 at 12:24 am

I live in Tucson, Az. Started my Sweets for one that was left over from Easter dinner at the end of May. The leaves are finally starting to turn yellow from the 4 plants that covered my back yard so I should be ready to harvest in a week or so. Looking forward to seeing my yield and hope to have some left over for next years planting. I’m going to plant earlier this next year so I can harvest in September and allowing them to cure a few day.

Thanks for the information on your site and have it now in my Bookmarks.

Reply

jackie October 8, 2013 at 11:42 am

I’m in Phx and planted a slip in April. The vine is absolutely gorgeous in my raised bed garden. Just went out to see how they were growing underground and found a big root heading beneath my huge cherry tomato plant, which I don’t want to disturb. I can’t wait to see my harvest, but I hate to lose the vine because it is so beautiful. Will it continue to grow even after I remove the potatoes?

BTW, your post is really interesting!

Reply

Cristina October 9, 2013 at 10:13 am

Hi Jackie — Sounds like you have a very happy sweet potato plant! Unfortunately, the act of harvesting those storage roots (the tubers we eat) will definitely affect the health and appearance of those vines. You may be able to keep some of the vines alive by replanting them after harvesting, but they will be diminished for sure. However, given enough time, I suspect they will grow back. Why not give it a try and see what happens?

Reply

Lynda Helms October 9, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I grew sweets for the first time this ear and being in southern Va., I wanted to know when to dig them.The vines are blooming and growing so pretty still the first week of Oct.I grew these from store bought slips.Thank you for your info on when to dig.Your info was most helpful and I will be checking it out often.

Reply

Lynda Helms October 12, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Well I went to check on the sweets and found they were huge so started digging-must be several bushels!What a job but a pleasant surprise.Now just got to get rid of all that vine.Can’t wait for spring to do this again.Thanks for your web site and help!

Reply

sue October 27, 2013 at 2:51 pm

hi I’m in the Uk and have just harvested my first crop of Beauregard grown in a container. I’m leaving them in my greenhouse for a bit and then will bring them in to the house for the curing. Sadly when I was harvesting I split one tuber so I’m not sure of that will affect their keeping. They are a good size. Your description helped me to decide how to look after them.

Reply

Cristina October 31, 2013 at 9:37 am

Congrats on your harvest, Sue! That split root can likely still be used, but won’t store nearly as long as the rest. I’d suggest cooking with that one rather soon, before the rest. Enjoy your harvest!

Reply

Hannah October 30, 2013 at 10:17 am

I love your blog! I’m in NJ and this was the first season I grew sweet potatoes. I neglected them as I did much of the garden since I got pregnant mid-season, but these beauties didn’t disappoint. I harvested them about a week ago and filled a 5 gallon bucket to overflowing. I’m going to guess it was about 30lbs. You’ve been my go to on all things sweet potato. I didn’t read about the curing period until just now. And I’ve already laid them in drawers lined with brown paper bags in my basement. So hopefully the week they sat in the bucket in my kitchen was warm enough to help them along ;) thanks for your wonderful blog. I’ve shared it with all my gardening buddies!

Reply

Cristina October 31, 2013 at 9:07 am

Thanks so much for your comment, Hannah! And, congrats on that harvest! Sounds like a great first year for sweet potatoes.

As for curing… I’m honestly rather lazy about it. A proper curing will help sweeten the roots, but they seem to do ok without as well. Just be sure to store them in conditions where the ambient temperature is above 55°F.Enjoy that harvest!

Reply

jacki November 7, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Oh my……..just started harvesting today! Already have a milk crate full, and nly did about 1/4 of my bed!!!! I have never done this before, so I keep looking on line for advice. Thanks guys. Back in June I noticed a small vine growing out of a sweet potatoe in my veggie bin. So I put it in a glass with alittle water …and BAMMMM, had a plant/vine growing in days. Looked on line, made a bed in the corner of my yard. Soon I had vines going crazy. Figured its Nov. better do something…….well I have so many, taking a break. Will do some more tomorrow. Hope they are “cured” by Thanksgiving! So a cool damp place? How about my garage? I am in Tampa Bay area, high 70′s to low 80′s in the day 60′s at night. Will they be ok?

Reply

Cristina November 8, 2013 at 11:31 am

Sounds like you have a great harvest ahead of you, Jacki. Fantastic!

Sweets taste best after about four weeks of storage, but you can certainly eat them sooner. For storage, you’ll want to keep them in a dark spot at about 55-70°F. They want about the same level of humidity that we do, so a spare closet or empty cabinet may work great. Your garage might be getting a bit too hot during the day for long-term storage (although they should be fine there for a few weeks, and may be ok for longer). Just don’t put your sweet potatoes in the refrigerator, and you should be fine. Enjoy!

Reply

Marilyn April 5, 2014 at 10:38 pm

I live in the southern coastal region of Victoria, Australia and I did grow sweet potatoes this year. My garden tracking app tells me to harvest this weekend, but my vines haven’t faded or yellowed at all yet and first frost date is still a month away. I’m going to risk it and let them keep growing. A few weeks ago we had a chilly spell (20c) so I moved the containers to the other side of the house and put them next to the house. I’m hoping that the sun beaming on the brick wall of the house will hold the heat and help keep the plants warm enough to last another month. We aren’t really in the ideal climate for tropical plants, but I’m hoping to get lucky with lots of love and attention.

Reply

Cristina April 6, 2014 at 8:43 am

Good luck with your sweets, Marilyn! Your instincts are correct — no need to harvest until you’re closer to the first frost. The plants won’t yellow, however. Unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes continue to grow green and happy until frost zaps them. That’s one of the reasons I so love the plants.

Reply

Tonia May 25, 2014 at 1:37 am

I’m really glad I did some reasearch and found your site or I would have treated my sweet potatoe like a potato /: I’m trying for the first time because I love my fresh red potatoes Might be a bit late but I’m in northern az and our summers are pretty much 9 months long (; with me everything I grow is hit or miss so we shall see. Here we have many HOA’s that won’t let you have anything non desert ie gravel and catus luckily mine is not that strict all also have plenty of back yard space. Sweet potoes make a beautiful container plant. We have to be careful here because most things that are typically full sun can handle our sun. Thanks for some great information

Reply

Lisa May 29, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Christina,
How many slips do you put in your basket? Ours should be here any day and we are trying to find room for them.

Reply

Cristina May 30, 2014 at 8:02 am

Hi Lisa — I was growing 1-2 slips per basket, and getting decent harvests. I don’t use bushel baskets anymore, however. I’ve had VERY mixed results with harvests from different baskets, and suspect that some baskets may be treated with chemicals that affect growth. You’ll find more about my experience here: http://www.outlawgarden.com/2013/10/31/no-more-bushel-baskets/

As an alternative, I’m using halved whiskey barrels (easily large enough for three slips), homemade wooden planters, and big store-bought ceramic planters. I may plant a few slips directly in the ground this year as well.

Good luck with your sweets!

Reply

Trudy July 10, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I was given 3 sweet potato slips about a year and a half ago. I put them in the ground where there is 6-10 inches of heavy decomposing mulch over mostly sand (near Tampa, FL). The area gets full sun. I made no watering attempts. This is my first time growing a potato of any kind, had no idea what I was doing or what to expect. The vines quickly covered a 20′ x 40′ area and served as a nice ground cover. Being busy with other things, I left them there for a year and a half. I decided to remove all the vines yesterday and voila! Up came about 70 lbs of all sizes of sweet potatoes. They weren’t rotten or anything, some were really big. They taste quite good when I wash them off and put them in the microwave. Now I need all the sweet potato recipes that I can get. This was a really amazing experience for me. Wow!!!!

Reply

Cristina July 14, 2014 at 10:16 am

Wow, Trudy! That’s an AMAZING harvest! Up here in Virginia, sweets won’t survive the winter. But they are perennials, and I’ve always wondered what would happen if they were just allowed to grow year-round. Now I know. :) Enjoy that harvest!

Reply

Richard August 11, 2014 at 1:40 pm

This is my first year planting Sweet Potatoes. We recently moved to the very Northern part of Florida around Jacksonville and the soil is rather poor, almost pure sand. I put in 8 inch deep raised beds, filled them with Miracle-Grow garden soil and planted the first of June. The vines look good most being around 7 feet long, so I am hoping for a good harvest. My problem is that down here it seems most things tend to cook in the summer sun and my harvest from the garden has been really disappointing. Things grow quick, but not real plentiful. Any suggestions on how to improve yield? Beans grew well, Yukon Gold’s did OK this spring, but that has been about it. I got no squash, very few tomatoes, wilt got them, and 3 eggplant. It just has not been worth the effort or the expense. Any ideas from anyone would be appreciated.

Reply

Cristina August 16, 2014 at 9:26 am

Hi Richard — Congrats on those happy sweet potato plants! As for the rest, I have to admit I’m no expert on Florida gardens. I’m in Virginia where things are a bit milder. You may find you have better luck in the spring or fall.

One suggestion I do have would be to supplement that Miracle-Gro soil with a good load of compost. Potting soil (especially stuff with added fertilizer, like the Miracle-Gro product) often doesn’t have all the organic-matter goodness that your plants need. That may explain the abundant growth and small harvest — the fertilizer may have spurred fast growth, but the lack of real organic matter may have reduced the harvest. Since you’re starting with very sandy soil, I’d suggest working in several inches of compost and adding organic mulch (grass clippings, shredded leaves, straw, etc) to help retain soil moisture. Over time, you will build up some truly fertile soil, and should see much improved harvests.

Reply

SIDNEY JONES August 18, 2014 at 1:30 pm

I started planting sweet potatoes two years ago and ever since I find the
leaves are more sought after then the tubers. I used to eat collard and kale
greens, now during the summer and fall I eat only sweet potato leaves.
They taste a lot like spinach only better.

Reply

Dan August 18, 2014 at 4:51 pm

@Sidney, this is my 3rd year planting sweet potatoes and I have yet to sample the leaves. I’ve been meaning to, but just keep forgetting because we grow lots of other greens. Maybe I’ll take the plunge this time, especially since I have an 8ft x 8ft bed full of them!

Reply

SIDNEY JONES August 19, 2014 at 10:53 am

So easy, I use low sodium chicken broth and they shrink up like spinach.
Search sweet potato leaves and you will be surprised at how so many people eat them.

Reply

SIDNEY JONES October 6, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Found another way to eat sweet potato leaves. Stir fry them. Olive oil,
garlic, cut up bacon and then I put them over brown rice.

Reply

Dawn August 20, 2014 at 12:04 am

Hello, I planted sweet potatoes for the first time this year. We got three slips from a guest speaker at a 4H meeting, he said they were a special developed purple sweet potato from, I think he said North or South Carolina. His instructions on them were, plant the day after mother’s day in a hill. So I hilled up the little spot I had left in my LITTLE garden. The darn birds sniped them off, I covered them with a cut off milk jug in hopes they would recover and they did. They have vined out over, under and through my entire garden. They are very pretty! So, my question, will there be SP where the vines have sent out root or just around the original slip. If your answer is yes man oh man do I have a LOT of digging to do. Thank you, Dawn

Reply

Cristina August 20, 2014 at 9:28 am

Your biggest harvest should be directly under where the main plant is rooted, but you may also have smaller tubers scattered wherever the vines have rooted. These secondary tubers are usually smaller and fairly close to the surface. But, yeah, you’ve got some digging in your future. :)

Reply

Richard August 20, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Thank you Cristina for the info. I am going to dig them up this weekend. Hoping for 10 to 15 pounds at least, But honestly will be happy with anything over 5 pounds. I’m not hard to please.

Reply

Dawn Chappuis August 25, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Thank you for the help. I have another question, I was told by an older woman, that the leaves were eadable, cook them like fresh spinach, has any one tried this, truth is I’m a little scared, don’t want to pioson my family.

Reply

Cristina August 26, 2014 at 6:24 pm

You can eat those sweet potato leaves with confidence, Dawn! They’re totally safe and quite tasty. Sauté them just like spinach, and enjoy!

Reply

Alice W. August 23, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Cristina or Richard; maybe both:- Isn’t he digging them up too early since I thought we needed to wait until just before first frost or at least until mid October. Or does it really depend on when they were planted or the zone in which one lives?

Reply

Cristina August 24, 2014 at 8:22 am

Hi Alice — The answer to your question is “it depends.” Sweet potatoes take anywhere from 90-120+ days to produce harvest-worthy tubers, but that assumes a nice warm summer. Cool weather can slow things down (just like it would for other heat-loving plants). In theory, a HOT summer might speed things up a bit (though I’m not sure of that). The variety matters too — some sweet potato varieties mature a full month earlier than others.

If Richard planted his crop late May or early June, he should be at just about 90 days by now, which would put him on the early side of the traditional harvest window. If he were to ask me, I’d suggest he dig up just one plant and see how things look. If the tubers are big, then his crop is ready. But if the tubers are a bit smaller than expected, he might want to leave the rest of the plants in the ground for a few more weeks. Of course, some folks prefer smaller sweet potato tubers because they want to be able to cook smaller portions. :)

Reply

Richard August 24, 2014 at 10:25 am

I planted the 3rd week of May, and it has been a really hot summer here, But I will have to put off for another week anyway as we had unexpected company come in for a visit. Hope you all do well with yours.

Reply

Cristina August 25, 2014 at 8:09 am

Sounds great, Richard! Fingers crossed for a good harvest!

Reply

jlevyellow September 1, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Apparently, I have made a mistake by planting two types of sweet potatoes in the same patch. I used a sweet potato that came from the local supermarket to get slips, but it would not sprout. I presumed that it had been sprayed with something to keep it from sprouting so I visited a local upscale supermarket and bought organic sweets. These did indeed sprout right away and I planted them, but then the “ordinary” sweet sprouted, so I planted a couple of slips from that one.

Now I do not know which ones are which and whether they will mature at the same time. I clearly have two types. Have you got a link with pictures so I can determine which is what?

Reply

Cristina September 7, 2014 at 9:38 am

There are scads of different sweet potato varieties, and I’m honestly not even sure of the variety names for all the sweets I grow (some are started from store-bought tubers, like yours). I wouldn’t worry too much about different maturation dates. While some sweet potato varieties are ready in as little as 90 days, all should be harvestable by 100-120 days. And, if you do have an early-maturing type mixed in there, the extra growing time won’t cause problems; you’ll just end up with larger tubers.

If you are curious, you can always *gently* brush the soil away from the base of the plant. This should expose some of your sweets’ developing tubers, and give you an idea of their size.

If you want to review a LONG list of sweet potato varieties, check out Sand Hill Preservation Center. No photos, but great descriptions.

Reply

Dan September 8, 2014 at 9:56 am

I agree with Christina: I wouldn’t call it a mistake. If you’re in Virginia or a similar climate, then simply wait to harvest just before the first frost forecast. Otherwise, just wait about 120 days for both.

Reply

Ernie September 12, 2014 at 8:27 pm

It’s been nearly 2 years since you started this topic and it’s still going strong! I do have a question/concern though. I planted beauregard slips around the middle of June and have a jungle of vines. Today I saw a rather large root sticking up out of the ground. A good 4 or 5 inch portion of the potato was above the surface. I have since covered it with the straw mulch I’m using, but was wondering if it being exposed will hurt that potato at all? Thanks!

Reply

Cristina September 14, 2014 at 10:41 am

Haha. Yep, people love their sweet potatoes. :)

I think you’re totally fine with that tuber. I’ve had some push above the ground in the past, and they always seem to come out just fine despite their exposure. In fact, this may be a good sign. If you have a tuber pushing up above the ground, there’s a good chance it’s being forced upwards by other tubers below it. You may have a nice harvest there!

Reply

Susan October 4, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Christina, I LOVE this blog, both for your wisdom & encouragement & for all the contributors’ experiences, I live in central Iowa & planted 3-4 plants in one of our 8X5 raised beds. The vines are now everywhere, even growing up the fence on the southern garden perimeter! About curing: how warm & is it a dark place for curing? How long to cure before moving to storage? Do the sweets need to be cured in a single layer? Stored in a single layer, or w paper between layers? Can’t wait for answers & especially for our 1st harvest!!!

Reply

Cristina October 5, 2014 at 11:31 am

So glad you’re finding the post helpful, Susan, and congrats on those happy plants! I’m betting you’ve got a nice crop of sweet potatoes buried beneath those vines. To answer your questions, I actually find it’s easier to skip the heat+humidity style of curing, and instead just move the sweets directly into storage. They do best at room temperature, and don’t mind light or dark. No need to wrap them in paper or otherwise fuss with them. I generally store them a couple layers deep in plastic storage bins in a spare closet. I do suggest waiting about 4-6 weeks before eating them — that gives the sugars time to develop. They really are the easiest crop to store. Good luck with the harvest!

Reply

SIDNEY JONES October 5, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Something I did wrong. Plenty of vines and leaves but no sweet potatoes.
The roots look like long vines but no sweet potatoes. I used lots of
compost and a good soil base. Somehow they don’t like good rich soil.
Any idea as to what I’m doing wrong?

Reply

Dan October 6, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Lots of compost might be your problem. Sweet potatoes are native to more southern climates and hence grow better in a relatively sandy soil. Next time try working in about 1/4 to 1/3 sand into your soil+compost. The compost provides lots of nitrogen which helps the vines grow. It’s not a total loss though. You can eat the sweet potato leaves, too. Just cook them up like you might cook up some spinach. I use a bit of olive oil & sea salt and saute in a pan until thoroughly cooked.

Reply

Dan October 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Also, try a couple different varieties of sweets. My favorite is a purple sweet that I got from our local organic market.

Reply

SIDNEY JONES October 6, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Thank you,
I did use lots of compost in the bed but no sand. I do eat the leaves and
I freeze about ten bags of them. I use a wok to stir fry them in olive oil
and garlic with a bit of cut up bacon (delicious). Have to go no going to
get the garden sand and take your advise.

Reply

Dan October 6, 2014 at 7:03 pm

I was just telling someone else today that bacon makes everything better! I’ll have to add some to my sweet greens next time. :)

Reply

Cristina October 7, 2014 at 7:22 am

Dan gave you some great advice here, Sidney. Sweet potatoes prefer “lean” soil, meaning soil that’s not rich with nutrients or organic matter. I’m better your sweets were happily growing as big as possible above ground, taking advantage of all that fertility, and just didn’t get around to producing tubers below ground. Tomatoes do a similar thing — if there’s too much nitrogen in their soil, they will grow LOTS of leaves, but only a few fruit.

Reply

SIDNEY JONES October 7, 2014 at 10:38 am

Thank you for the advise, I compost all winter and the compost I use in
all my gardens grew beautiful fruits and vegs all except the sweet potatoes.
My cucumbers created hundreds and I even grew cantalopes. I’m going to
start an area in my garden and omit the compost and see how well they do
this next season. Thanks again.

Reply

Tonia October 11, 2014 at 12:53 am

Ok I have a question that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere… Your freshly harvested sweets in the picture above are “rooty” do you clip those roots or cure then clip?? I haven’t harvested first crop yet and I’m desperately hoping I actually have something to cure and store..

Reply

Cristina October 11, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Fingers crossed for a good harvest, Tonia! Yes, I do trim the roots a bit. Not too much though — I try to minimize the amount of “damage” I inflict. I’ll just trim them back enough so that they are easier to store. Then, I clip off any remaining roots right before I cook the sweets.

Reply

Tonia October 11, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Thank you.. I don’t have a lot of hope this year I think I got them in the ground after our heat was too much here and most haven’t done much of anything, only 3 have really vined. More experimenting needed here in zone 8a will be planting much earlier next year… But I’m hoping to at least see something ..

Reply

Tonia October 20, 2014 at 12:46 am

I dug up my sweets that were in my raised garden bed ( 2 or 3slips), they were in valuable fall planting space, they were also the only ones that really vined. I put them there as an after thought because I ended up with too many slips for my containers. It was disappointing I got three fingerling sized and one small… Ugh, I’ll be leaving containers as long as possible, not sure if 50 is the cut off but we shouldn’t get there till early or mid nov. I’m hoping since I don’t plan to give up yet that I planted to late. One container has two store bought (box store in pot) I’ve gotten conflicting info on if they are the same but one has a visible tuber poking up not sure what the deal is with them /: I’ve gotten (from garden employees ) everything from they are the same to they might to posiioniuos, not sure I believe the latter. Anyone have thought or experience with that? Hope to hear about your harvest this year soon (:

Reply

Cristina October 21, 2014 at 7:50 am

I always let my sweets go until as close to the first frost as possible. Once frost hits, it’s best to dig them up within a day or two. It sounds like you may have another month of growing season before that’s even a possibility, so hopefully your remaining sweets will bulk up some more. I don’t know this for a fact, but I do think the last month or so of growth is when the tubers put on their most size. So, fingers crossed!

As for those store-bought sweet potatoes… They should be perfectly edible. All sweet potatoes are safe to eat, even the fancy ornamental varieties. The difference is that the ornamental varieties are bred for their looks and not for flavor or tuber size. Some don’t even produce real tubers, and others taste mighty bland. So, not the best eating, usually. But your hunch is right — none are poisonous.

SIDNEY JONES October 12, 2014 at 11:11 am

I have been reading about perlite and vermiculits and I wondered if sweet
potatoes grow better in the mixture ?

Reply

Cristina October 17, 2014 at 8:25 am

I think you’d have better luck adding coarse sand to your soil, Sidney. Perlite and vermiculite are both often used to increase water retention (this is why they are so commonly seen in potting mixes), but sweet potatoes don’t want to grow in soil that retains water. Sweet potatoes want light, well-draining soil. If your soil is heavy (like the Virginia clay in my own garden), you can add a mix of compost and sand to loosen it.

Reply

SIDNEY JONES October 17, 2014 at 10:42 am

Thanks Cristina I did buy sand and was going to do exactly what you
recommend and the clerk told me about the perlite and vermiculits.
Thanks again

Reply

Dan October 17, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Sidney, you could do an experiement with perlite & vermiculite. Try it in a bin or about 3 cubic feet of garden space with 2 or 3 slips next season.

Reply

SIDNEY JONES October 17, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Thank you Dan I’ll try about 3 cubic feet and compare the two methods.

Cristina October 21, 2014 at 7:56 am

Great advice, Dan! That’s my in-the-garden philosophy too: when in doubt, try it out. :)

Tonia October 27, 2014 at 1:56 am

Hi, I have a question for you or anyone to answer… This is premature but I’m always planning ahead! In your experience how far down will sweets meander to make tubers? Here in tucson awful doesn’t begin to describe our ground so containers are the way. Would something a bit taller like a small trash can or laundry basket add grow space or just be wasted space at the bottom? I’m always brainstorming useful inexpensive container options. But don’t want to end up needing more soil to fill a container that won’t be more productive..

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: