Friday morning I woke up to a forecast of -1 Monday morning and -3 Tuesday morning. That forecast triggered alarm bells so we came up with a plan quickly and put the bare minimum of staff on packing for wholesale orders and markets. The remainder of our crew went immediately to work harvesting sweet potatoes. We have no experience with sweet potatoes in the ground at -3 with a foliar canopy, let alone open to the elements (the leaf canopy was completely burned off by a hard frost September 19) and after all the losses over the last few years we absolutely cannot afford to take the risk of yet another loss. So we went to work hoping to get the crop out of the ground by working Friday, Saturday and Monday.(we rarely work Sunday which is often linked to religion but it was certainly born out of some very good common sense)
Sweet potatoes need to be cured in order to store long term. This involves bringing the temperature to 30 Celsius and humidity to 100% for five to 7 days so that they can form a waxy laser just below the skin surface to seal in moisture and prevent dehydration. Once they have been cured they absolutely cannot be disturbed or handled in any way until just before selling them when we wash and pack them. If they are disturbed they will get tiny scratches in the skin and waxy layer which will cause them to dehydrate and die (yes they are alive, just like all of the root crops we store). Once cured they can be stored at 10-14 Celsius and 60-80% humidity for more than a year with no detectable reduction in quality. There is no other crop that I know of that stores this well. It’s pretty ironic to think that of all of the crops we grow, sweet potatoes are the farthest removed from their native habitat but are the easiest crop to store and supply good quality product year around.
So back to sweet potato harvest. Ideally we need to harvest all of the sweet potatoes in two days so that they all cure evenly and store well. In this case it was a full four days between the start and finish of harvest but I thought it was the lessor of two evils and we went for it. Only time will tell if we have curing problems. As it turns out we only went down to minus two on Monday night instead of the -3 with a -7 wind chill that was forecast Monday afternoon (the forecast wind didn’t materialize, so no wind chill. Wind is notoriously hard to forecast, or so I assume, because the forecast is wrong much more than right.) But I think we made the right move. I find it psychologically much easier to go out and do what we can rather than just watch, wait and hope. I am certain that is a big part of the reason we have been successful over the years.
For me, the exciting part of the whole story is that we have double the crop in storage than we had last year. Our total crop this year was about 240 apple bins of sweet potatoes; about 175,000 pounds!
On another note; we managed to put some heat in our tomato tunnels so they will continue for a few weeks yet. We picked all of our peppers Monday afternoon, so no loss there. We covered our beans with floating row cover expecting them to freeze anyway but because they were on a hill and the temperature only dropped to minus two we are still picking!
Here’s to the downhill slide!
Keep eating your veggies.