Sweet potatoes are in season from July-November. There is so much patience and planning that goes into harvesting sweet potatoes. Here are all the different steps involved in harvesting sweet potatoes!
The first time I saw a sweet potato harvest was with BAKO SWEET in Bakersfield, California. It ended up being a three and a half hour drive north from San Diego. I woke up bright and early to make it in time for the sunrise. BAKO SWEET has their office a few minutes away from the fields so I met the farmers there to carpool in a truck. Thank heavens because my little Jetta doesn’t do to well off roading.
Sweet potato harvest for BAKO SWEET starts around the 3rd week in August to 2nd week in November, right before rain season.
1. Shred the vine
When we pulled up, I noticed that there wasn’t anything growing. It was just a field of dirt with some of the sweet potatoes already exposed. A sweet potato plant looks a lot like a vine which they let grow until it’s time for harvest. The vines are so thick and tall that they come up to my knees (which isn’t saying too much since I’m only 5’3” but still). Then they shred the top of the vine about 15 days before harvest to expose the row. The tractor that is used to shred the vine is like a huge lawn mower that makes a lot of noise and dust! If they don’t shred the vine, the potatoes will not dry out and are hard to dig out from the ground.
2. Dig up the potatoes
After they dry out, the harvest begins! There are two diggers on each harvester (tractor) that go deep into the ground that slowly bring up the sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes run along a belt right on the harvester.
3. Place in bins
Each bin is categorized by size. As the potatoes run along the belt, they are carefully put them into the right bins by hand. There were four bins on each side and two on the end. The large size is for bulk displays in the grocery markets, mediums are wrapped for microwaves or 3-5 pound bags and extra large potatoes are made into fries or chips. West Coast potatoes are all hand placed and sorted to prevent skinning and bruising of potatoes for better quality.
4. Get ready for the store
When one of the bins get full, they back the harvester up and a forklift comes over to take off the full bin and replace them with an empty one. They take the bins to storage before shipping out to the store. Sweet potatoes can stay fresh a whole year in storage until market!