Alas, we WILL have sweet potatoes. However, not that many. Sweet potatoes, being a root vegetable, can either be a great surprise or a disappointment. As with most roots, you can spend the season caring for, watering, and hoping that those roots are developing as planned and as hoped, but until they are dug out of the ground, you never know. That’s also what makes harvesting roots so rewarding: it’s usually a great surprise and you end up hauling beautiful nutritious food out of a field that appeared to be just leaves. This year’s crop of sweet potatoes, however, are a small disappointment as crop yields weren’t extremely high. But who’s complaining? We will still have some!
This year’s sweet potato crop (a member of the morning-glory family…see heart-shaped leaf at right) started out a bit sickly. We ordered ‘sweet potato plants’, also known as ‘sweet potato slips’, and planted them in holes on black plastic mulch. The slips are finicky and require adequate moisture and storage temperature conditions before going into the ground. Due to other tasks on the farm or rain delay into the fields (I don’t remember exactly), we waited a few days longer than ideal before planting them. Then, after they were planted, it got really hot. The black plastic increased the heat near the plants, burning many of the already sickly plants. We were left with about half as many plants as we started with. So, in order to not waste the field space and not give up on the plants that did make it, we inter-planted winter squash in the holes where the dead sweet potato slips were. The squash did great. The sweet potato vines seemed to flourish.
This past Monday, we started digging and it was a peaceful, sunny, and rewarding day with four of us tackling the project for 4.5 hours. It was still fun, even though it was a bit disappointing. Most often, we would pull a sweet potato crown out and lots of skinny roots would be present, but no potato had formed from those roots, and sometimes even few roots could be found. Our first guess is that it is possible the winter-squash shaded the sweet potato vines too much, not allowing for adequate root development, but who knows…a myriad of other factors could be at play. Like, our expectations being higher than reality.
But it doesn’t make finding a big potato any less-gratifying. When you see the tip at the surface, you grab and start pulling and more and more potato is revealed…wow! Did that really just come out of the ground! The winner is below (although nothing is in the picture for scale), among other normal and not so normally shaped potatoes. And with anything, we have a variety of sizes…from huge to tiny.
Sweet potatoes must be cured after harvest to ensure their starches turn to sugars. Ideally, they need to be kept for 10 days at 80-85°F and high relative humidity (85-90 percent). Luck for us, we have temperature-controlled greenhouses (to protect from these cold nightly temperatures), So we’ve dropped the bin off and are counting the days until we get that deliciously sweet flavor from these funky roots…hopefully by next week’s share.
“Sweet potatoes are truly a nutritional powerhouse- according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI), the sweet potato is the #1 healthiest food around and has higher nutritional content than any other vegetable.” Lucky us!