How to Harvest your Home-grown Potatoes

by Annette Welsford No Comments
potatoes pickedA successful potato crop will keep you stocked up with freshly grown potatoes for as long as eight weeks, from the time the plant flowers.
The first potatoes you can harvest will be little, baby potatoes – normally referred to as “new potatoes”. This could be as early as six weeks after planting; be guided by the flowers which should be fully open. A mature crop though will only be ready 12 to 14 weeks after planting, depending on the variety.

Harvesting New Potatoes

The harvesting process for young, new potatoes is not the same as for mature tubers. The reason for this is because you don’t want to damage the remaining tubers when you dig out baby potatoes.
If you dig carefully under your potato plants, you will be able to feel the tubers and judge their size, bearing in mind the usual size that new potatoes are when harvested commercially. Then all you do is to carefully “pick” a few from underground. Take a few from each plant, and from different sides of the plant.
The skin of new potatoes is very thin, and you won’t have to peel them before cooking them. By the same token you can’t store them for very long (it’s the hardened – or cured – skins that extend their “shelf” life), so eat them immediately, or at least within days of harvesting.

Harvesting the Rest of your Potato Crop

There are no absolutes in terms of the size potatoes should be when harvested; some varieties do have the potential to grow bigger than others, without starting to deteriorate (for instance those that have been produced or bred for baking).
While you can dig out mature potatoes by hand, this is a tedious process and it is easier to lift them with a four-pronged garden fork (spades and hoes are more likely to damage the tubers).
To lift complete plants with a fork make sure you push it into the ground away from the tubers (check with your hand until you are able to judge from experience). Then lever the plant out of the ground. Gently shake the soil off the tubers.
Sometimes potatoes get left behind in the ground, so when you’ve completed the harvest, fork-over each row and retrieve the stragglers.

How to Make your Potatoes Last

If you are planning to store your potatoes for any length of time, before you harvest them you should “cure” them. All this involves is a simple process that thickens the skin and closes the minute openings on the potato skin. Correctly done, you will be able to store your potatoes successfully for months.
Once you have established that the potatoes are ready for harvesting, give them a good, thorough last watering. A couple of days later cut the plants down to ground level and remove.  They will be ready to harvest a week to ten days after this has been done.
You can leave mature tubers in the ground for longer than this, but you must be sure that they are totally covered with soil and they must not be watered again. If it rains, lift the crop immediately.
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