In Season: Sweet Potatoes
The harvesting of sweet potatoes signals the transition to fall on the farm and the arrival of cooler weather. Sweet potatoes are planted in late May or early June in zone 7,* and so they spend a lot of the year quietly growing through the busy hustle and bustle of the season. Above the ground, the plants produce beautiful, sprawling, almost ivy-like vines. Under the ground, the tubers grow in clusters of varying shapes and sizes. When they're ready to be harvested in mid- to late September, you must embark on what feels like an archaeological excavation. The vines are cut away from the top of the plant, and the tuber clusters are dug around to loosen them before trying to dislodge them. It is easy to snap the brittle tubers if you're not careful to work the cluster loose before pulling it up. From a marketing standpoint, it is also important to harvest sweet potatoes when they are at a size that customers prefer, as they will continue to grow to very large sizes (four to five pounds!), which are difficult to sell.
*U.S. Department of Agriculture's plant-hardiness designation for most of New Jersey.