September Sweet Potato Harvest


The final seed distribution for the Grow Gainesville seed cooperative is next Monday so I needed to clear the raised beds for fall planting. One bed is already cleared and “resting” covered with cardboard and newspaper to discourage grass, and one bed is still full of struggling ashwagandha so the sweet potatoes in the third bed had to go. And it turned out to be a good thing, too. As with the last couple years, the white sweet potatoes (boniato) fared much better than the orange. The orange sweets are cracked and heavily chewed by larvae while the boniato are without blemish, untouched by nematode, beetle or mole. There’s fifteen pounds of sweet potatoes here but a few pounds are too damaged to be really edible. The crazy thing is that this raised bed was an experiment. The sweet potato starts were planted in yard waste- bags of oak leaves, dry plant stems, grass clippings, and some wood chips- basically a compost pile. While the sweet potatoes grew the yard waste broke down and now it’s all full of gorgeous black soil.

I’d like to avoid the insect damage and cracking next year. Cracking is caused by too much water before harvest. Instructions for avoiding cracking sweet potatoes include ” Watering should cease three to four weeks before harvest” which is laughable. We received 11 1/2″ of rain in August! If you’re supposed to harvest sweet potatoes during dry weather then we are planting sweet potatoes too *early*. We start drying out in mid-October. Maybe if I waited to plant until June then my sweet potatoes would grow during the hottest wettest months and be ready to harvest during the drier autumn?

sweetpotato3I have to admit, the sweet potato crop this year is a complete accident. In the spring I noticed sweet potato vines popping up in the garden from roots that I missed in last year’s harvest. They were not chosen in any way. Instead of ripping them out as weeds I transplanted the strongest-looking shoots into the raised bed and let the rest frolic through the forest garden. This year I’m going to try and be more methodical in digging the sweet potatoes in the forest garden and in the spring I’ll probably pull any stragglers so I can start fresh with new seedlings.


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