When to harvest sweet potatoes

Tom Kerridge prepares delicious sweet potato burrito

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A farm in Kent grew the first successful crop of sweet potatoes in the UK as recently as 2015, but thanks to some varieties that are better suited to UK weather becoming available, many more British gardeners can have a go. If you’ve tried growing your own sweet potatoes this year, when is it time to harvest them? And if you’re tempted to try, when should you plant sweet potatoes?

Sweet potatoes are a delicious and autumnal vegetable, perfect to add to soups, curries or eat roasted at this time of year.

Although typically grown in warmer climates, more and more British gardeners have turned their green fingers to growing sweet potatoes.

Is it time to harvest sweet potatoes in the UK?

The best time to harvest sweet potatoes is around four to five months after you’ve planted them.

In any case, you want to get them out of the ground in autumn before winter arrives and the ground becomes too cold for them.

How do I know if sweet potatoes are ready to harvest?

The tell-tale sign your sweet potatoes are ready to harvest is that their leaves are turning yellow and dying.

The best way to pull your sweet potatoes up is to loosen the ground around them, and then lift them out carefully.

Their skin can be delicate – so be careful not to damage them!

If you damage any skins, that potato won’t store as well, so use any damaged potatoes up first.

When can you plant sweet potatoes in the UK?

If you missed the memo this year, but want to grow your own sweet potatoes next time, the best time to plant them is from May onwards.

Sweet potatoes are normally grown from cuttings – also called ‘slips’ – and you can order them online.

Make sure you choose a variety that’s suited to the colder weather in the UK, such as Erato Orange, and pot it first in a small pot of compost.

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Keep the pot moist and cover with a plastic bag until it has propagated.

The plants will be happy in a greenhouse until they’re ready to go into the ground, where they will be happiest in a sunny spot of your garden or allotment.

It’s suggested that after planting, you cover them with fleece or plastic cloches to keep them warm, this should give you a more plentiful plant.

Alternatively, you can buy young sweet potato plants and plant them in your garden in late spring or early summer.

Tips for growing sweet potatoes in the UK

  • Sweet potatoes don’t like competing with weeds so keep their area free of weeds.
  • Avoid watering in the last four weeks of growth – this can cause them to split.
  • To ensure your sweet potatoes keep well, store them in a warm place for two weeks after harvesting them. Once the fortnight is over, store them in a cool place – not a fridge – and they should last well.

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