Curing sweet potatoes
By James Burns
What is curing?
When sweet potatoes are dug, they usually have some abrasions and cuts. It is important to let these “cure” or “heal”. That is an over simplification though. The curing process helps to encourage the natural changes which produce sugars in this root crop.
For most home gardeners this is the process of air drying them until the abrasions are covered with a dry layer. If you can, spread them out thinly on a rack or some supported screen or nylon mesh, and allow them to be shaded and cured in the breeze. This seems to be the best method. To do this, you may need a covered area such as a back porch, a carport, or some other covering to keep out the rain and sun.
Curing also refers to the process by which the starches in the plants turn to sugars. As the potatoes cure, they will become sweeter to the taste. This part of the curing process requires 4 to 8 weeks, which may be impractical for many home owners. Proper storage will allow the curing to continue. Slatted boxes, or drying racks which allow continued ventilation will be sufficient in most cases.
Curing on large farms
Curing on most larger farms may take place in a building built specially for this purpose. Such curing houses aim to keep the potatoes at around 85 to 90 degrees with humidity kept around 85% to speed up the healing and sugar conversion. The amount of time recommended varies from one report to another, but usually it is between 4 and 8 weeks. This sort of curing process and schedule is beyond the scope of many home gardeners. Air drying and immediate storage thereafter works very well. See also More About Curing
Storing sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes should be stored in a dark, cool, dry space, with reasonable ventilation. Temperatures should be maintained around 55 degrees if possible. Well cured and stored potatoes will keep at least until the next seasons potatoes are dug if they are stored properly and not allowed to freeze. Frozen sweet potatoes should be disposed of quickly, they will begin a fairly rapid rotting process. Any which have been frozen can still be fed to farm animals without any consequences to the animals.
Do not enclose them in air tight containers. Be certain that air can flow around them. Mesh bags for small quantities, slatted racks, or slatted boxes of the type used to transport the potatoes should do the trick. If properly cured, and properly stored, they will last at least until the next season, and much longer. They tend to become less crunch, and more springy during longer storage, but unless they freeze, rot, or are otherwise damaged, they will still be good to eat.
Choosing “seed” potatoes.
You can save potatoes for seed. Choose medium to small potatoes, which are not overly stringy. Like any form of selective breeding, you want to not only choose the best ones, but the ones from the best “hills.” You should look for these when you are digging them. Choose hills that have several, or almost all prime specimens. If a hill has four or five, high quality potatoes, it is probably a good genetic source for you to propagate. Of course you will want to take them from more than one parent plant, to insure a little genetic diversity. Cure and keep these, as you would all the others, but keep them labeled so they won’t be eaten! See also: Growing Sweet Potato Slips
Sweet potatoes are high in protein, beta carotene, and many other healthy nutrients. The vines can be fed to farm animals, and have a high level of protein as well.
Sweet potatoes and children
Sweet potatoes can be fun to grow and fun to eat. This entire process is a great educational tool for children, from propagation to the table.
If you set a sweet potato in a glass of water, it will sprout at the eyes, and produce a nice decorative piece for your window sill. It is also a good way to show children a little something they don’t get to see in nature. There are several varieties of sweet potatoes sold in the landscape business, as decorative vines, and they can make attractive window sill decorations for inside the home as well.
The sweet potato can aid in explaining plant growth and propagation, the process of genetic selection, the process of how plants make sugar, and good nutrition. There are many more ways to pass on knowledge through this object lesson. I am sure you can find them.
Eating sweet potatoes can be fun, this is my favorite recipe: Cooking Sweet Potatoes
For More detailed information check into these sweet potato books:
Sweet Potato: An Untapped Food Resource
Sweet Potato: A Handbook for the Practical Grower [ 1921 ]
Sweet Potato: Post Harvest Aspects in Food, Feed and Industry (Food Science and Technology)
Sweet potato culture. Giving full instructions from starting the plants to harvesting and storing the crop