I don’t know about you, but we are in the thick of harvesting and eating fresh goods from the garden and I am loving it! Nothing says summer time like going out to your backyard and harvesting your dinner.
Being a potato farmer’s daughter, buying potatoes from the grocery store is a crime. For the last couple months we have been completely out and we have been anxiously awaiting our fresh potato harvest. Sooooo, here is the skinny on harvesting potatoes!
Normally, seven or eight weeks after planting, the earliest varieties are blossoming. This signifies that early potatoes may be ready. To check, gently poke into a potato hill by hand to see what you can find while making as little disturbance as possible. You may either “rob” a few plants of a potato or simply harvest an entire plant from the end of the row. “Rob” gently to avoid injuring the growing roots and stressing the plant. Later varieties are usually grown for winter storage.
The ideal time to harvest is when the tops of the plants have died back. It is best to wait until heavy frosts kill the tops off or, if your tubers are full sized but no frost is in sight, you can mow the tops or cut them off by hand with a sickle. However, if you can wait for the tops to die back naturally, your harvest will be a little bigger and your potatoes just a tad richer.
Drier soil is definitely an advantage when harvesting; the tubers come up a lot cleaner and with much less effort. After the tops are dead, rest the tubers in the ground undisturbed for two weeks to “cure”. This allows the skins to toughen up thereby protecting the tubers from scuffing and bruising during harvest and storage. Minor injuries to the skin may heal if allowed to dry.
It is best to harvest in the cool morning hours. You will want to chill your tubers down as fast as reasonably possible and if they start out cool it will be much easier. If hand digging, place your fork outside the hill at first and lift the hill from outside to avoid stabbing a potato. If the soil is wet, let them air-dry on the surface for a few hours before gathering them. If the weather is unsettled and you still must harvest, spread the potatoes out under cover and let them air-dry before storing. Then “field-grade” your harvest; separate out and discard (or set aside to eat immediately) any blemished, scabby, misshapen, or injured tubers. Do not put cut or damaged tubers (those injured during harvest) into a sack of good ones as they will rot and cause the other potatoes to rot with them.
A tip that my Dad gave me is when planning your garden grow at least three different varieties with all different maturity dates. An early, a mid, and a late. This way you are able to eat your early varieties right away and keep your mid and late season varieties for storage.
Good Luck and Happy Potato Hunting!