Storing the Sweet Potato Crop
By C. K. McQuarrie
How to store the sweet potato crop in such a manner as to ensure against loss by decay, is a matter that seriously concerns the farmers of the state. A considerable loss occurs in this crop every winter from preventable causes. The methods of harvesting the crop are responsible for a large amount of this loss, and the methods of storing for most of the balance.
Digging Sweet Potatoes
The bulk of this crop is not generally harvested until the first frost occurs. The field should then be gone over and the vines cut from the crown of the hills by means of a sharp hoe or sickle. This operation prevents the decay in the frosted vines from being communicated to the potatoes, and so causing rot which shoes itself soon after the potatoes are dug. If we follow this method the potatoes can ripen in the ground before we dig them, and their deeping qualities will be improved.
In the digging operation, care should be exercised to prevent injury to the tubers by cuts, scratches, or bruiises, which are another source of soft rot. Where a considerable acreage is to be harvested, it will be a point of economy to use a regular potato digger. This works better and quicker, avoids injury, and insures the getting of all the crop from the ground.
After digging, the crop should be allowed to lie on the ground in rows for three or four days, so as to get thoroughly dried and cured by the sun. It is as necessary to cure potatoes both Irish and sweet, as it is to cure hay or forage.
Storing Sweet Potatoes
I have seldom, if ever, seen a successful sweet-potato house made by digging a hole in the ground and roofing in, or by imitating a smoke house; because both of these lack ventilation. A common practice is to make small conical piles about ten bushels each, and to cover them with soil and bark. As far as my observation goes, this method is frequently a failure, because the contents of these piles are not properly secured against rain, and are improperly ventilated. In my own practice I have found it best to store sweet potatoes in banks on top of the ground conveniently near to the barn or dwelling house. A piece of ground running north and south of the desired length, and about four feet wide, is levelled by means of a hoe or rake, and the potatoes are piled on this about five feet deep, tapering to a sharp ridge. This makes a long V-shaped bank, and care is taken to have the sides with a smooth and uniform slope. After all the potatoes are piled in the bank, a good plan is to allow them to have a few days’ exposure to the sun so as to become thoroughly dry, covering at night with sacks or hay to keep off the dew. Then the whole bank is covered two or three inches deep with some kind of hay and over the hay a couple of inches of soil are thrown. The hay absorbs the moisture that is given off by the potatoes during the sweating that occurs soon after the bank is entirely covered. The soil keeps the hay in place and protects against cold. The bank should be made water-tight by means of boards laid lengthwise, with lapping edges to shed rain; or a temporary frame of scantlings can be made over the bank, and shingles or tap-paper used to keep the potatoes dry.
If the crop is stored in this way, it is less likely to rot than with ordinary methods, and it can be held until late spring, when prices run high.
[Contributed by Michael Strickland]