Friday, October 16, 2009

Sweet Potato Weather Alert!

This message came to my email this morning:

Issued by The National Weather Service
Atlanta, GA
5:42 am EDT, Fri., Oct. 16, 2009

... FREEZING TEMPERATURES AND FROST POSSIBLE IN NORTH GEORGIA SUNDAY AND MONDAY MORNING...

A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE IN THE WEATHER PATTERN WILL TAKE PLACE ACROSS THE EASTERN U.S. DURING THE NEXT FEW DAYS AS A DEEP UPPER TROUGH DEVELOPS IN THE MID-ATLANTIC REGION. THIS WILL RESULT IN MUCH COLDER AIR SPREADING SOUTHWARD INTO THE SOUTHEAST U.S. TONIGHT AND SATURDAY. MUCH BELOW NORMAL TEMPERATURES WILL REMAIN IN PLACE THROUGH EARLY NEXT WEEK.

TEMPERATURES WILL DROP TO THEIR LOWEST LEVELS SINCE EARLY APRIL DURING THE WEEKEND. CLOUD COVER AND WIND WILL LIKELY KEEP TEMPERATURES ABOVE FREEZING SATURDAY NIGHT... BUT BY MONDAY MORNING CANADIAN HIGH PRESSURE WILL SETTLE OVER THE AREA ALLOWING SKIES TO CLEAR AND WINDS TO DIMINISH TO NEAR CALM. LOW TEMPERATURES NEAR 30 DEGREES ARE EXPECTED IN MOUNTAIN VALLEYS AND IN MANY RURAL AREAS OF NORTH GEORGIA EARLY MONDAY. WIDESPREAD FROST CAN ALSO BE EXPECTED... ESPECIALLY WITH WELL ABOVE NORMAL SOIL MOISTURE CONDITIONS CURRENTLY IN PLACE.


I know, I hate the all-caps presentation, too, but in this case the alarm might be justified. Sweet potatoes need to stay at well-above freezing temperatures, and what is coming this weekend misses that ideal by a huge margin.

Anyone whose sweet potatoes are poking above the ground, the way they do as harvest time approaches, should either dig those sweet potatoes up today or tomorrow, or mulch them heavily to protect them until a warmer day comes again. The picture below illustrates what I mean:





Around here, Fall temperatures can swing pretty wildly, so I don't expect the cold weather to last until April. Warmer days will be here in a week or so, but I am not going to wait, even though the ground is still very wet. Cold is even worse than wet, where sweet potatoes are concerned.

I had been hoping for great weather for harvesting the sweets, especially since this year I am growing two kinds. I wanted a bit of leisure so it would be easier to compare. However, this weather is what I have.

In the picture below, the differences in the leaves of the two kinds of sweet potatoes are easy to see. The heart shaped leaves are on the Beauregard plants and the deeply lobed leaves are on the Puerto Rican plants that were given to me by a friend.




When I have all the sweet potatoes safely out of the ground and in the house, I will spread them out in a single layer on newspapers to dry, with a small space-heater aimed at them to keep them warm. They need to dry and cure in a warm place for at least a week before being gathered back up for longer term storage.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for this. I've been wondering when I should harvest the sweet potatoes I planted. Mine are in containers so even less cold resistant than they would be in the ground and mulched. Thanks also for the info on how to cure them, though I don't expect to have many this year, I'm hoping to have more next year.

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  2. Supermom,

    What variety did you plant in your containers? One year I gave a container-gardening friend a slip of Beauregard to plant, and as the tubers grew they split the large, double-walled container she had planted in!

    This year, in spite of the exploded container, I planted one Puerto Rican sweet potato slip in a large container. The person who gave me the slips said that the variety wasn't as exuberant a producer as Beauregard, and this turned out to be true.

    I dug up all the sweet potatoes yesterday. They are basking in front of the little space heater as I write.

    Hope your sweet potatoes are delicious!

    -Amy, NW of Atlanta

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  3. Thanks for the warning. I dug up some of my sweet potatoes today - I got 2 enormous ones. One question was, how to I know I've gotten them all? I found one only because I could see it sticking up out of the ground - it wasn't attached to any vine right there.

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  4. owlfan,

    For the varieties that I planted, it is usual for each plant to form more than one tuber. It is possible that other varieties form fewer (or one!). For Beauregard, one or two will likely be visible above the soil surface, but others could be much deeper. I usually work through the whole planting area with a digging fork, lifting the soil starting at one outer edge.

    After I think I've found them all, I make another pass from a different direction, re-digging the whole area. I usually find a couple more smaller tubers.

    Sweet potatoes are a bit tricky in that some will develop fairly deep in the soil, which means that the digging fork needs to bring up soil from more than just a few inches down, and sometimes a potato or two will form where a bit of vine has taken root beyond where they were originally planted.

    When pulling up the vines, it is helpful to note where roots have formed. One year, when I was less than diligent about keeping the vines inside the garden, I dug up a couple of potatoes from the lawn.

    I am guessing that the one you found off by itself either had a vine attached at some time, or it had been attached through a root underground to a nearby plant.

    Hope you find them all!

    -Amy, NW of Atlanta

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