Over the last couple of weeks, the pace of activity has slowed down in both my garden and my kitchen, and for that I am grateful. It is a cherished brief moment of time wedged between the fever of summer work and the preparations for winter. Mid-October is here all too soon and planning has to begin for the first frosts of the season, which for me can happen as early as late October. Break time is over and the clock starts ticking on harvesting, protecting and prepping before it is too late!
The next weeks will be about bringing in and preserving the remaining frost sensitive vegetables and herbs, protecting the veggies that will tough it out outdoors this winter, moving strawberry transplants, bed clean up and planning soil amendments and mulch.
The first crops to bring in are the white and sweet potatoes. Potatoes are a staple in my house. Last year I had a wonderful crop of Yukon gold and Kennebec varieties. This year I decided to try growing potatoes in bags. I had real reservations about this method (mostly drainage concerns) but I wanted to free up the bed space, which in a small garden is always at a premiuml. I should have trusted my gut as the bags were a complete bust. This was an expensive experiment I will not be repeating!
I did have some volunteer plants grow, however. I love volunteers - they are gifts from Mother Nature and I was very grateful for them this year. I let the plants grow until they turned yellow before harvesting the potatoes, hoping for the largest yield I could get. We did miss the delicious new potatoes I usually steal as the plants flower.
This is the first year I have grown sweet potatoes and I dedicated a lot of bed space to the Beauregard variety. Sweet potatoes are a tropical plant and require a lot of sun and a long growing period, but we have successfully grown them at the Master Gardener Project I volunteer at, so I planted my slips as soon as the ground was warm enough and hoped for the best.
Sweet potatoes are part of the Morning Glory family and the flowers are gorgeous. The vines, of course, do not stay neatly in their designated beds and I ended up expanding their bed space. It is important to keep the vines on the ground as they send down suckers which help the plant get the nutrition it needs and to grow more potatoes. I know people like to grow sweet potatoes in hanging pots for show, but if you want to have a sweet potato harvest, the earth is where they need to be.
Last week, I saw this little tease in the bed. It was time. Sweet potato skins are very fragile when first removed from the earth so it is important to be as gentle as possible. I dug up half of the bed and was rewarded with a great harvest!
Sweet potatoes need to be cured to allow the starches to turn to sugar and for the skins to firm up. This was going to be challenging as I live in New England and the temperatures are already too low to do this outside and over night. I did a lot of reading on how to cure sweet potatoes indoors and the recommendations were many and varied! Some people keep them in a dark warm closet with a humidifier on, while others don't do anything at all, they just store them. Some people from the northeast don't grow sweet potatoes because of this issue.Well, it's too late for the last suggestion!
In the end I decided to store them in a warm room, dirt and all, covered with newspaper to protect them from the light.After a week of curing I baked one to see if they were edible. All the stories of incorrectly cured, starchy, inedible sweet potatoes had me a little worried!
I needn't have fretted. It was one of the best sweet potatoes I have eaten, being both sweet and flavorful. Now I can dig up the rest of the plants with confidence!
Do you grow sweet potatoes? How do you cure them?
See you in the garden,