Sweet potato harvest and storage: I have been hearing that sweet potato harvests around the county have been scant this year, probably due to the excessive rain, cloudy weather and cooler soil temperatures. But it is time to harvest, nonetheless! Sweet potatoes can be harvested usually from mid-October to mid-November, depending on weather. Once the vines have frosted or are turning yellow, harvest right away. Sweet potatoes need about 100 days to develop after the slips are planted in spring. Roots stop growing when the soil temperature drops to about 50 degrees, and they should be harvested soon after so they don’t begin to rot. A soil thermometer can be helpful with this. I have used a potato fork or spade to loosen the soil, but you need to be careful to avoid stabbing too many of the tubers, since damaged tubers don’t store as well. Use any damaged ones right away.

To harvest, you want to get under the root and lift up gently as the soil loosens. Tubers will be right under the base of the vine. Handle the tubers gently as their skin is thin, and put them in a milk crate or on a screen to dry. Don’t clean the sweet potatoes before drying and curing as they may be damaged and susceptible to fungal diseases. If you are using them in a month or two, curing isn’t needed but they should be dried seven to 10 days at 70-80 degrees regardless.

The curing process develops a thicker skin, heals any small wounds and increases the root’s sweetness by converting starches to sugars. You can cure the roots in an oven on the middle rack, hanging an incandescent light bulb (if you can find one these days!) in the oven, and running the cord outside the oven to an outlet. Place a thermometer in the oven to check temperature —adjust by using a different wattage and/or cracking the door open.

If you want to store the sweet potatoes over several months, cure them for five days at 90 degrees and 85 percent humidity. Again, use an oven, light bulb (if possible) and thermometer. The difference this time, besides bulb wattage is to include a pan of water in the bottom of the oven to achieve 85 percent humidity.

A warm greenhouse, attic or sunporch where you can tarp the crates to get the humidity up would also work. Once sweet potatoes are cured, store them in a dark spot in milk crates or other containers with good air circulation at 55-60 degrees and 75-80 percent humidity. A cool basement or root cellar works well. If they have been properly cured and stored they can last six to 10 months.

Lawns: For the last mowing of the season, cut the grass a little shorter than normal. Generally you want the grass to be 3 ½ -4 inches tall to help keep it healthy and to help shade out weeds. For the last mowing, cut to about 2 ½ inches to provide less food and tunnel space for voles, as well as less material that may be attacked by snow mold in spring if we have heavy snowfall in winter.

Lisa Johnson, Dane County UW-Extension horticulture educator

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