Digging, Drying and Clearing

I love living in a place where there are distinct and different seasons, and we definitely have four different ones here in Southern Indiana. I also look forward to each of those seasons, some perhaps more than others, and to eating and living seasonally. So when the calendar says it’s October, that gets me to thinking about all the things that I traditionally associate with October. Like digging sweet potatoes, for instance.

The sweet potato vines had been growing for over 4 months, so I thought it was time to dig up a few plants last week and see what buried treasure I could find underground. Recent rains had left the soil soft and easy to work, but I was afraid I might start losing the tubers to rot if we got more rain. The results looked good, so I decided to dig them all up while I had some warm and sunny weather on my side. And, the warm temps would help jump start the curing process, which is necessary to ensure the sweet potatoes will keep well during storage.

Last year was not a good year for sweet potatoes here. Hot and dry conditions all summer plus rabbits nibbling on the vines did not make for good yields. This year we had ample rain most of the summer, and new fencing kept the garden safe from the hungry bunnies. So I had high hopes for the sweet potatoes this year. Once I had them all dug, I brought them up to the house and let them sit in the sun to dry for a few hours.

sweet potatoes drying in sun

sweet potatoes drying in sun

After they had been in the sun several hours, I brought them in the house and weighed them before taking them to the basement for curing. Ideal conditions for curing sweet potatoes call for temperatures between 80-85°F and high humidity (85-90%), though finding those conditions is difficult for most home gardeners (including me).  In our house, the basement is warm in summer and early autumn so it is the best place we have for curing sweet potatoes. For more information about sweet potato harvesting and curing, Purdue has a bulletin titled Dig Those Sweet Potatoes  and Mother Earth News has an article called Harvesting Sweet Potatoes.

2013 sweet potato harvest

2013 sweet potato harvest

After weighing, I spread them out in a single layer and covered them with sheets of newspaper to help keep the humidity high around the tubers. The curing process takes a couple of weeks, and improves not only the keeping qualities of the sweet potatoes but also improves their flavor as the starches begin converting to sugar. Since the skins are quite fragile right after digging, I don’t do any cleanup on the tubers until after they have cured, and I never wash them until right before cooking. Right now the conditions under the newspaper are about 75°F and 75-80% relative humidity, so that should permit good curing.

curing the sweet potatoes

curing the sweet potatoes

The total haul for this years crop was 55 pounds of tubers. That came from 26 plants I had growing in a ridge of soil about 35 feet long. I grew two varieties this year, a purple one I am calling Carla’s Purple because the unknown variety of tubers were given to me by our friend Carla, and the ever popular Beauregard. Carla’s Purple yielded 10 pounds from 6 plants, while Beauregard weighed in at 45 pounds from 20 plants.

finished row of sweet potatoes after planting in late May

finished row of sweet potatoes after planting in late May

The purple ones were pretty uniform in size, long and slender. The skins were dark purple and free from any insect or rodent damage. I am looking forward to tasting these beauties once they have cured. Carla assures us they are tasty as well as beautiful.

one of the Carla's Purple sweet potatoes

one of the Carla’s Purple sweet potatoes

The Beauregards were all over the place in size and shape, which is pretty much normal for this variety in my experience. And that isn’t a bad thing in my opinion, because the different sized ones can all be put to good use. The large ones are great for slicing and grilling, and the medium sized ones can be baked whole. The smaller ones and any odd-shaped ones can be cut up for roasting, soups and other uses.

Beauregard sweet potato

Beauregard sweet potato

Quite a few of the Beauregard tubers had been gnawed on by voles. These rodents are a big problem here, and no doubt our light silty soil makes it easier for them to tunnel. But after the sweet potatoes cure, the damaged spots should harden up and the tubers will still be edible. We will eat those first, cutting away the damaged spots right before use. It’s hard to see in the below photo, but if you look real closely you can see the tooth marks where the voles gnawed on the tubers.

vole damage to sweet potato tuber

vole damage to sweet potato tuber

Another thing I like about October is that it is apple season around here. Last week my wife and I made a trip across the river to Owensboro, KY to Reid’s Orchard to buy some apples. We wound up getting a half peck each of four different varieties: Jonathan, Winesap, Cameo and Golden Delicious. We will be processing most of these into things like applesauce, apple leather and dried apples, as well as eating them fresh.

apple slices before drying

apple slices before drying

To dry them I wash the apples, core them, and then slice into thin slices. They dried in the dehydrator in about 6-8 hours. We will seal them for use throughout the winter. I love to cut up the slices and add them to hot cereals like oatmeal, or add them to muesli or trail mix. They also make for great snacking as-is!

apples after drying

apples after drying

October also means it’s time to start cleaning up the garden and clearing out some of the summer crops. I’ve already replanted fall crops in the row where bush beans were growing, and the potato row got seeded with some daikon radishes for a winter cover crop. After digging the sweet potatoes I hauled the vines to the compost pile. I also cleared the row next to it which had bush squashes growing in it. I will get one of those rows ready for planting garlic later in the month, and the other one will likely get seeded with a cover crop, probably more of the daikon radishes. The compost bin was already half full, and now it is full to overflowing after adding all the sweet potato vines! I am digging finished compost from the other bin, and after it is empty I hope to fashion a better front door from another pallet.

compost bin full of sweet potato vines

compost bin full of sweet potato vines

I also found two more Kumi Kumi squashes in the garden. One was mature, but I got the other one while it was still green and tender. This squash has been a star performer in the garden this year, giving us over 30 pounds of summer and winter squash, with one more big one left on the vines. The two latest Kumi Kumi are in the below photo, along with a lone Brown Turkey fig. I think the mature one would make a good Jack-o’-lantern, don’t you?

Kumi Kumi squash with Brown Turkey fig

Kumi Kumi squash with Brown Turkey fig

That’s a look at what’s happening here in early October. To see what others are growing and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, where Daphne hosts the Harvest Monday series.

 

 

 

 

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16 Responses to Digging, Drying and Clearing

  1. Jenny says:

    Beautiful harvest of sweet potatoes and squash! We didn’t get any sweet potatoes this year – rabits ate them with everything else in the garden. I love fall and always go apple picking (my trees will need couple of more years before full production), and my hubby is happy with his apple pies 🙂

  2. Norma Chang says:

    Voles ate all my sweet potatoes last year so this year I experimented with growing in container, only grew 2 plants of purple but the yield was not great.
    Thanks for the apple drying idea. I do not have a dehydrator but am going to try drying using the oven. How thick were your slices?
    Norma Chang recently posted…Harvest Monday, October 14, 2013 + Container Purple Sweet Potato UpdateMy Profile

  3. Patsy says:

    Your sweet potatoes look terrific and now I really need to learn how to grow them (not to mention find room for them somewhere!) Voles are a major pest around our place too!
    Patsy recently posted…Mid-October HarvestMy Profile

  4. Barbie says:

    Your post is what I love about fall. Squash, apples, sweet potatoes – all in one place. LOL. Enjoy those apples. Anything resembling an apple here is dwarf sized. hehe. Wonderful harvest. Can’t wait to see your Jack!

  5. Stoney Acres says:

    A great week again this week Dave. I’ve never grown sweet potatoes so it was fun to learn a little more about them from you. We love dried apples too! We already bought one big box of apples a few weeks ago but they are so good fresh we haven’t had the heart to cut any up for the dryer. I guess we will have to get another box and get them dried!
    Stoney Acres recently posted…Monday Harvest Report October 14, 2013My Profile

  6. Bacon says:

    Great looking harvests. I am jealous of all your sweet potatoes. I wish we had room to grow them. Maybe one year when we get more raised beds put in. We love to eat sweet potato fries!

  7. Jason says:

    Well, I better dig my sweet potatoes, too. We have just two plants in a half wine barrel, and I have no expectations as this is out first go at it.
    Jason recently posted…Getting on in yearsMy Profile

  8. Liz says:

    I’m really going to have to investigate dehydrators – I like the idea of drying my own fruit very much. Rats left those same teeth marks on my pumpkins last year. Glad I don’t have voles to contend with as well.
    Liz recently posted…Monday Harvest – 14th October 2013My Profile

    • Dave says:

      I am glad we don’t have rats! The bad thing about the voles is that they often do their damage underground so you can’t see it. I have had vegetable plants just die, and when I go to pull up the plant I see that the voles have been tunneling under it and have eaten the roots. They are nasty buggers!

      The dehydrator is great for fruits. I love having dried fruit that is 100% fruit, and making fruit leather is also easy to do with the dehydrator.

  9. Barbara Good says:

    Loved the look at your October garden. Sweet potatoes are not something I can grow here nor are voles something I have to contend with, I don’t even know what they are! Love the pumpkins, definitely a hack-o-lantern in there, though I bet they’d be even better roasted and eaten!

    • Dave says:

      I vole is like a large field mouse, but not as big as a rat. They tunnel, and sometimes use mole tunnels to get around. They are voracious eaters!

  10. Daphne says:

    I love the look of the ripe kumi kumi squash. And yes it would make a great jack-o-lantern.

    • Dave says:

      As it turns out, the skin is so tough that I will either have to use a marker pen or power carving tool to decorate it!

  11. Thank you so much for the wonderful Italian Cookbook. I received it yesterday. Lots of things that I would like to try. 🙂
    crafty_cristy recently posted…Insects In Our YardMy Profile

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