By Jackie Rhoades
You’ve planted early, hilled carefully, cultivated and fertilized. Your potato plants are full and healthy. Now you’re wondering when to harvest potatoes you’ve so carefully tended. Knowing how to harvest potatoes will help you will help you get the greatest benefit from your crop.
When to Harvest Potatoes
For winter storage, it’s best to let the plant and the weather tell you when to harvest potatoes. Wait until the tops of the vines have died before you begin harvesting. Potatoes are tubers and you want your plant to store as much of that flavorful starch as possible.
Temperatures of both the air and soil should also factor into when to dig. Potatoes can tolerate light frost, but when the first hard frost is expected, it’s time to get out the shovels. In areas where the fall is cool, but without frost, soil temperature will dictate when to pick potatoes. Your soil needs to be above 45 F.
When to dig potatoes for dinner is much easier. Wait until late in the season and take only what you need, carefully resetting the plant so the smaller tubers have a chance to mature.
How to Harvest Potatoes
Now that you know when to dig potatoes the question becomes how. To harvest potatoes, you’ll need a shovel or a spading fork. If you’re harvesting for supper, drive your fork into the soil at the outside edges of the plant. Carefully lift the plant and remove the potatoes you need. Set the plant back in place and water thoroughly.
After deciding when to dig up potatoes for winter storage, you’ll need to dig up a ‘test’ hill for maturity. The skins of mature potatoes are thick and firmly attached to the flesh. If the skins are thin and rub off easily, your potatoes are still to ‘new’ and should be left in the ground for a few more days.
As you dig, be careful not to scrape, bruise or cut the tubers. Damaged tubers will rot during storage and should be used as soon as possible. After harvesting, potatoes must be cured. Let them sit in temperatures of 45 to 60 F. for about two weeks. This will give the skins time to harden and minor injuries to seal. Store your cured potatoes at about 40 F. in a dark place. Too much light will turn them green. Never allow your potatoes to freeze.
After you decide when to dig up potatoes, get the whole family involved. Equipped with a small basket, even the smallest child can share in this fun and rewarding experience.