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The art of harvesting sweet potatoes

Courtesy<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Sweet potato tubers.

Courtesy<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Sweet potato tubers.

If you plant those delicious, nutritious sweet potatoes everyone enjoys then you know harvest time is just around the corner.

Most sweet potato varieties are ready to harvest 95 to 120 days after transplanting.

As a rule, the leaves will turn slightly yellow when the sweet potatoes are ready to harvest.

If you are planning to store sweet potatoes, back off on the water late in the season, but moisten the soil before digging if it is completely dry.

And remember to cut the vines off two or three days before digging. That will help toughen the skins and help reduce skinning.

A light frost will kill the vines but will not damage the roots; however, they should be dug as soon as possible after a frost to prevent decay from spreading from the vines to the roots.

The tubers are actually called roots. Spread the roots four to six inches deep in the soil. A spade fork is useful when digging them.

A regular shovel can be used, but start digging back about 8 to 10 inches from the hill and work forward, making sure you are at least eight inches deep in the soil.

Extreme care should be used not to buise or cut the roots. Allow roots to dry on top of the soil for two or three hours after digging. Shake off excess soil but do not wash them.

The skins of freshly harvested roots (sweet potatoes) are delicate, so use soft gloves and handle them as little as possible.

After harvesting sweet potatoes, they should be cured. Curing involves placing the sweet potatoes in a warm 75- to 80-degree location, like on top of the refrigerator, for 10 to 14 days.

For the best results, they should not be touched. This increases sugar content, helps heal scuff marks made during harvesting, increases orange color of the flesh and toughens skins. After curing, wrap each potato in newspaper and place them in a basket or box. The ideal storage temperature for sweet potatoes is between 55 and 60 degrees in a dark, dry location.

Do not refrigerate sweet potatoes, and do not store them with apples. Apples give off ethylenegas that will spoil potatoes.

Check stored roots periodically and remove any that have become soft or mushy. Roots can be stored for several months.

Few foods match the superb flavor of a home-grown, nutritious sweet potato.

Check with the Cooperative Extension office at (928) 753-3788 for upcoming workshops and the Urban Home Horticulture Class scheduled to start in January, or visit the UA Mohave County Cooperative Extension's main web page at http://extension.arizona.edu/mohave.