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How to Harvest, Cure, and Store Sweet Potatoes

| Harvest, Video

Sweet potatoes are one of the easiest and most productive crops to grow in a home garden, and they can last for many months in storage if the proper care is taken in harvesting and curing. Here, I’ll explain the simple steps and tricks to harvest and cure sweet potatoes successfully.

 

 

It generally takes about 120 days for sweet potatoes to mature after planting the slips, so once your slips are in the ground, mark your calendar for four months later. But this is not a hard deadline — watch the plants themselves to know the right time to harvest.

When you notice the foliage above ground is starting to yellow, you’ll know that production is slowing down. You can harvest at this point, but the longer you leave the sweet potatoes in the ground while the top growth is still viable, the larger the potatoes will be. 

However, you shouldn’t wait too long to harvest sweet potatoes either. Once the top growth has died down — typically via a frost — you should harvest right away. If you aren’t prepared to dig up the sweet potatoes then and there, the next best thing is to cut off all the foliage. This is important because the top growth may carry a plant disease that can pass through the foliage down to the sweet potatoes and affect them as well.

 

Joe Lamp'l cutting sweet potato top growth

Once the top growth has died, harvest sweet potatoes right away. If you aren’t prepared to dig up the sweet potatoes then and there, the next best thing is to cut off all the foliage.

 

After I have cut all the vines I prefer to get them out of the way to clear the path and give easier access while harvesting.

Next, I use a digging fork (also known as a garden fork) to get underneath the sweet potatoes and loosen up the soil. I do this gently because a sweet potato that has been damaged will most likely rot in storage. Avoid piercing the sweet potatoes or scraping off their very soft skin. 

 

Digging fork

A digging fork like this one works great for getting underneath sweet potatoes and loosening the soil.

 

Once the soil has been loosened, your best tool for harvesting the sweet potatoes is your hands. 

 

Joe Lamp'l harvesting sweet potatoes

Your very best tool for harvesting sweet potatoes without damaging them is your hands.

 

While it’s tempting to eat your newly harvested sweet potatoes immediately, it’s important to let them cure first. During the curing process, the starches inside the sweet potatoes convert to sugars, and that takes about two to three weeks with proper storage.

Once the sweet potatoes are out of the ground, don’t leave them in direct sunlight for more than a few hours.

 

Sweet potatoes on screens

Collect sweet potatoes for curing and storage, but don’t leave them in direct sunlight for more than a few hours.

 

To prepare the sweet potatoes for storage, you can carefully wipe off the excess dirt right away, but it’s better to wait until they are a few days into the curing process. After a few days, the skin will have toughened up a little and will be less likely to come off as you are removing dirt. And never wash the sweet potatoes with water before curing or storing, as that will shorten their shelf-life.

 

Collecting harvest sweet potatoes

You can gently brush off dirt, but refrain from washing the sweet potatoes with water before curing or storing, as that will shorten their shelf-life.

 

In order to cure for long-term storage, sweet potatoes need high humidity and heat above 80 or 85 degrees for one to two weeks. To achieve these conditions, place sweet potatoes in a single layer in a plastic grocery bag. Tie the bag closed but also cut holes in the bag for ventilation. Once all your potatoes are bagged, place them in the sunniest spot in your house.

 

Bagging sweet potatoes

An easy tip for curing sweet potatoes is to place them in a single layer in a plastic grocery bag with holes cut in the bag for ventilation. Place them in a sunny spot in your house.

 

Alternatively, put the sweet potatoes in a closet (or a pantry or bathroom) with a space heater and a humidifier set to 85 or 90 percent humidity. If you don’t have a humidifier, leave a bucket of water in the closet instead. Place a thermometer that also reads humidity in the closet to keep an eye on it.

If you follow these simple steps, you’ll enjoy sweet potatoes for many months ahead.

Have you had success curing sweet potatoes? Let us know in the comments below.

Links & Resources

010: Preserving the Harvest, with Theresa Loe

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About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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