Harvesting potatoes is like
digging for treasure
I guess it’s human nature to wonder about the unseen, like sweet potatoes you can’t see your potato crop untill you dig it up so it’s no wonder many gardeners have a sneek peak at the growing spuds at some point and of cause it never stop there. Harvesting new potatoes before the main harvest is often referred to as “robbing”.
You can rob your new potatoes anytime after they have reached usable size, 50-60 days after planting for early varieties. When your potatoes get close to flowering is the come get me, I’m ready for the table signal.
Harvest these early, small potatoes either by gently lifting the mulch or carefully digging into the hill and gently separating the tubers from the plant. Be careful to avoid injuring the roots and stressing the plant. You can harvest a whole plant and take all it has to offer if that way suits you better. No matter how you do it the end result is still delicious.
Photo One - Long before it’s time for harvesting potatoes the trembling hand of the potato robber quietly move towards his target. Mouse over image to enlarge.
Photo Two - Exposed and about to be taken from their sanctury the tender young potatoes just sit there unaware of their impending doom.Mouse over image to enlarge.
Harvesting potatoes used for winter storage should not be done until after the potato plants have flowered and the vines die off. Potatoes may be left in the ground to extract as much energy from the vines as possible as long as the soil does not freeze. If potatoes are allowed to freeze, they will be watery and unusable.
To check for crop maturity, dig up one or two plants, if the skins on the tubers are thin and rub off easily, the crop is not fully mature. The skins on mature potatoes remain firmly attached to the tubers.
Photo One - Rubbing the thumb across this potato shows the potato skin firm and stays in place. Mouse over image to enlarge.
Photo Two - Rubbing the thumb across this potato shows the skin rubbing off and is not yet ready for harvesting to store. However now you have ripped it from its home you might as well eat it tonight.Mouse over image to enlarge.
Leave the tubers in the ground for a week or two more if necessary to reach fully mature. Giving storing potatoes this extra time is necessary to properly cure or toughen the skins, protecting them from scuffing and bruising during harvest. This will also help prolong storage life.
If you have a large crop. Once the vines have died off, and your potatoes are ready for harvesting, you can mow the vines to clear them out of the way ready for digging. If the crop is smaller, cut the vines and clear the beds with a sickle or something similar. It is a lot easier digging potatoes with the bed clear of potato vine trash.
Photo One - Rake off the mulch and plant trash from the bed before digging potatoes Mouse over image to enlarge.
Photo Two - With the bed clear digging can begin. This bed has been slowly harvested over the last few weeks but the remaining spuds have been left to properly cure for storage.Mouse over image to enlarge.
Try to harvest in fine weather so you can leave the newly dug potatoes on the surface of the soil without any risk of them getting rained on. Dry soil also makes it much easier for digging potatoes.
Harvest potatoes in the morning while it is still cool or warm rather than hot is better for the tubers but don’t leave them exposed to the light for more than a few hours or you will risk them going green and becoming inedible.
When digging potatoes , place your potato fork outside the hill at first to avoid stabbing your potatoes. Lift the entire root system one plant at a time to minimize bruising, skinning, or cutting the tubers as much as possible.Mouse over image to enlarge.
If you have a crop of growing potatoes in straw or some other mulch system, then harvesting is even easier.
Take the time to grade your potatoes by sorting and discarding blemished, scabby, misshapen or injured tubers. Potatoes should be firm, free of soft spots, and disease for best storing.
Damaged potatoes will not store for very long and should be used first. Minor injuries to the potato tubers will heal so allow your potatoes time to dry and their skins to harden before bagging them up.
Before placing the potatoes in storage, remove loose soil and take them indoors to further dry and cure. Cure potatoes at a temperature of 45-60 F (7-16 C) and high relative humidity (85 to 95 percent) for two weeks. Final healing of minor cuts and bruises and thickening of the skin occurs during the curing process.
For the next page in this section follow this link to Storing potatoes