Saving Sweet Potato Roots for Growing Your Own Slips


Timing Your Sweet Potato Harvest

Usually sweet potatoes are harvested in the week that the first frost typically occurs in your region, so those in the colder half of the country will have harvested and those in warmer regions, maybe not. For those who haven't, here are some pointers about harvest: Aim to harvest on a mild day, when the air is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees C), to avoid chilling injury.

In drought, irrigate the field before harvest, to avoid scratching the skin with chunks of dry soil. If the days (and the soil) are warm, a couple of light frosts will not harm your crop. Despite myths, there is no toxin in frozen leaves that goes down into the roots. Sweet potato leaves are completely edible. If frost does strike, waste no time — get them harvested within a few days.

The danger is not from frost itself, but from cold temperatures. Don’t wait till soil temperatures get below 55 degrees. A permanent chilling injury (hard core) can happen to sweet potatoes. The potatoes remain hard no matter how long you cook them, and are useless. Cold injury can ruin the crop — if roots without leaf cover are exposed to cold air temperatures, they lose their method of pulling water up out of the soil, and get chilling injury. Additionally, cold wet soil can quickly rot sweet potatoes.

How to Harvest Sweet Potatoes

Before you start your harvest, if your winters are relatively short, you could consider propagating sweet potatoes for next year by taking vine cuttings in the fall, rooting them in water, then potting them up as house plants for the winter, to provide cuttings for early slips next spring. But perhaps, like me, you don’t “do” houseplants, because you appreciate an indoor space where you don’t need to think about keeping plants alive!

Remove the vines from the plants to be harvested that day. If there is more than one day’s digging, leave intact vines to protect the rest of the crop. Clip the vines, leaving stumps to show where to dig. Roll the vines into the gaps between the rows — if you have close rows you may need to roll the vines further away. Digging forks can be useful tools for this job, rakes don't really "grab" enough.

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