Every hearty and delicious meal features everyone’s favorite vegetable: the potato. And since they’re a popular option and easy to grow, chances are you’ve already got things cultivated and fertilized and your crops are ready to dig up. But is harvesting your potatoes a difficult task? And how do you know when it’s time to unearth them?
Fortunately, this guide on when and how to harvest your potatoes is here to help. We’ll spill the beans on all the tools you’ll need, the best tips and tricks to keep in mind, and more, so you’ll be ready to collect your spuds and cook up a delicious meal for the whole family.
While this article will focus on how to harvest potatoes, you may be curious about how to plant your own crops. If you’re looking to start small, check out our tips on how to grow potatoes in a container. And if you’re interested in a larger scale project, consider how to plant potatoes in your backyard.
Materials You’ll Need for Harvesting Potatoes
Before you get to digging, there are a few tools you’ll need. Fortunately, we’ve got the line-up sorted below so you’ll be all set for harvesting.
- Shovel or spading fork
- Bristled brush or cloth
- Collection bag or basket
- Storage bag or container
When to Harvest Potatoes
Before we delve into the instructions for harvesting potatoes, it’s important to know when they are ready to be removed from the ground. Fortunately, even though potatoes are underground, it’s obvious when they’re ready for harvest.
New potatoes, known as tubers, can be harvested when the plant begins to flower in spring and early summer. They have thin skins that are easily damaged, so careful harvesting is crucial. That being said, harvesting new potatoes usually sacrifices the parent plant, meaning it will not grow mature potatoes later in the season.
Storage potatoes are harvested at the end of the growing season when the plant has fully matured. The foliage will become dried and withered, making it clear that the spuds are ready for picking. Once the foliage has died, wait two weeks to harvest, allowing the potatoes to develop thicker skins
Instructions for Harvesting Potatoes
Step 1: Dig up a Test Potato
Before you start revealing the entire crop, it’s important to ensure your spuds are actually ready to be unearthed. That means you’ll need to dig up a test potato. To start, grab your shovel or spading fork, slip on your gloves, and keep a collection bag or basket nearby.
When digging for potatoes, it’s important to carefully remove the soil–using your hands is a great option–and lift around the base of the plant to loosen the taters. Ensure that the temperatures are around 13-18 degrees Celsius (55-65 degrees Fahrenheit) and make sure to keep the potatoes out of direct sunlight.
If your spuds are ready to be harvested, they’ll have thick skins that are firmly attached to the flesh. Simply follow the same careful process to remove them all (or as many as you’d like) from the ground.
Step 2: Cure the Potatoes
Once you’ve carefully removed the potatoes from the ground, they need to be cured. But before you cure them, brush off any soil using a soft-bristled brush or cloth. Avoid washing them until you use them as this can reduce the storage life and cause mold.
The curing process is rather simple, involving little attention and time. That being said, it’s important to use any potatoes damaged from harvesting immediately since they will not keep and will only cause other tubers to ripen and rot.
To cure your spuds, simply allow them to sit in temperatures of 7-16 degrees Celsius (45-60 degrees Fahrenheit) for two weeks. Keep them in a darker place in a basket or container that allows for ventilation. This will give the skins a chance to harden, making them ready to eat and/or store.
Step 3: Store the Potatoes
Properly storing your potatoes is just as important as harvesting and cooking them. Spuds prefer cool, dark spaces (4-7 degrees Celsius or 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit) with 90% humidity. They should also be kept in a burlap sack or paper bag for proper ventilation as well as protection from the light.
Also, avoid putting them in the refrigerator since this can turn the starch into sugar, affecting the taste of the cooked potato. They also shouldn’t be kept with other produce since this can cause them to ripen and rot more quickly.
Final Tips for Harvesting Potatoes
- Water potatoes less before harvesting to allow them to harden
- Ensure all potatoes are covered by soil so they don’t turn green
- For baby potatoes, harvest just before the vines die
- If a frost is expected, early harvesting is recommended
- Keep your potatoes out of sunlight–especially when they are freshly harvested
- Check stored potatoes regularly, removing any damaged or rotten spuds
As it turns out, harvesting your own potatoes is just as easy as growing them. The crops will tell you when they’re ready, and then it’s just a matter of carefully unearthing them and cleaning them off for storage. Plus, the materials and tools you’ll need are quite minimal, adding to the hassle-free nature of the project.
Once you’ve harvested and prepared your potatoes, it’ll be time to cook them up. Fortunately, we’ve also rounded up plenty of recipes to get you started.