, Salem, MA


October 12, 2012

Time to dig up those sweet potatoes

Q: When is the proper time to dig up sweet potatoes? This is the first year that I planted them.

A: As you know, sweet potatoes are a warm-weather vegetable, taking 100-110 days to mature, so depending on when they were planted, it’s about time to harvest. Our area gets about 194 growing days each year if we’re lucky, so you really have to make the most of every warm day to plant and mature this crop and not have it spoil. You may have a few weeks left — you’ll be harvesting just as the rest of us are planting spring bulbs as the ground temperatures drop to 50 degrees.

Dig tubers as the vines begin to yellow and shrivel and dry — the strength they gained from the beautiful green vines all summer will have ended. Try to dig tubers on a dry day.

Dig them carefully with a fork, being careful not to bruise the tubers or they won’t store well. Bruised tubers can be refrigerated and used immediately — many gardeners do the digging by hand.

After curing in warm, humid conditions, tubers can be stored at cool, near-room temperature — don’t refrigerate for long-term storage. And don’t wash your tubers until you’re ready to use or they might rot. Just brush them gently.

Q: I haven’t composted in years but am getting back into it. I remember the basic “no meat scraps,” but what about seeds, i.e., grass seed, tomato scrap seed, any seed — are they OK to add? Also, I know no tomato plant refuse (due to disease), but what about the dirt from their containers? Is it OK to add any dirt to a compost? I do some of my veggies and all of my tomatoes in containers, so if it’s not OK to add to compost, what’s a good use for all of the used dirt I’m going to have from all those pots?

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