Tips for harvesting potatoes

potatoes fresh from the garden
potatoes fresh from the garden

When should you harvest potatoes? Here is how you can tell if the tubers in your garden are ripe and how to get them out of the ground undamaged.

Harvesting potatoes depends not only on the right time, but also the method of harvesting, suitable tools, the variety grown and further use. Ideal to harvest potatoes is a dry day. You should get the tubers out of the ground before the first frost at the latest. Here are tips for a successful potato harvest.

Harvesting potatoes: The variety determines the timing

The annual potato harvest begins as early as June with the first early potatoes and ends in October with the late varieties. When planting, be sure to note the respective variety. Because whether early, medium-early or late varieties, it determines, in addition to the weather, when you harvest your potatoes and how you can store and preserve the tubers. Early potatoes contain a lot of water, have a thin skin and therefore cannot be stored for long. The first early varieties are harvested as early as June. For medium-early varieties, the potato harvest begins in late July or August, and the potatoes can be stored for about three months. Late varieties for storage are harvested from the beginning of September. With their thick skin, you can store the potatoes until spring.

How to recognize potatoes ready for harvest

Harvesting begins, broadly speaking, about three to four months after the potatoes are planted. Then the plants enter their natural resting phase, the potato haulm withers, turns yellow and the whole plant finally dries up, an unmistakable starting signal for the potato harvest.

But be careful: do not confuse the natural dormancy of potatoes with late blight! If the fungus appears, only an emergency harvest will help before the tubers become inedible.

Do not harvest storage potatoes too early, otherwise the potato skins will be too thin and the tubers will not keep very well. Here, the longer the vegetable grows, the better you can store it. This is because the skin becomes firmer the longer the tubers stay in the ground. If the cabbage has dried out, it is best to wait another two weeks or so before harvesting the potatoes. This also applies to medium-early varieties if you don’t want to eat them for several weeks. You can also recognize ripe potatoes by the fact that they easily detach from the bearing threads, i.e. the stolons.

Early potatoes may still have green foliage when harvested. The tubers are then particularly tender and are eaten right away anyway. You can recognize the earliest harvest time by the fact that you can no longer wipe off the skin of the potatoes with your fingers.

harvesting potatoes
harvesting potatoes

Use the right tool for harvesting potatoes

Digging forks are the most important tool for harvesting potatoes. They loosen the soil and leave the tubers mostly alone. Spades, on the other hand, break up many of the tubers while they are still in the ground. First, remove the wilted potato haulm. If you have previously noticed plant diseases such as late blight on them, dispose of the haulm in the household trash and not in the compost. This will prevent the pathogens from spreading further in the garden. Now poke the digging fork into the soil about 30 centimeters (12 in) next to the potato plant, push the prongs under the plant if possible, and lever it up. This loosens the soil automatically. In clay soils you will have to help a little. Now bundle the individual stems of the plant in your hand and pull them out of the ground. Most potatoes hang on to the roots, only a few remain in the soil and have to be found by hand.

Important: Do not stick the prongs of the digging fork into the soil directly at the base of the plant, otherwise you are guaranteed to impale some potatoes with it.

Those who grow their potatoes in a planting bag, or in a large pot on the balcony or patio, should also get ready to harvest after about three months. In this case, however, no major tools are needed: cut open the harvest bag and simply collect the potatoes. The potatoes in the pot are best dug out gently with your hands.

By the way, some amateur gardeners wonder what happens if they don’t harvest their potatoes or simply forget them in the ground. The answer is simple: the tubers continue to grow and give you new plants in the bed next season. But since this is not in the spirit of crop rotation and crop rotation in the vegetable garden, you should make sure to get all the tubers out of the ground when harvesting potatoes.

Harvesting potatoes – always fresh on the plate

If you want to eat potatoes freshly harvested, it is best to harvest them in portions instead of digging them all up at once. The other tubers can remain in the ground until the next meal. Carefully expose the roots with a hoe, take out the largest potatoes and pile up soil again. The remaining potatoes will continue to grow undisturbed. If you have created a dam of soil for the potatoes, this makes the potato harvest easier: you can simply scrape the soil away with a hoe.

If you have harvested too many tubers, you can even freeze the potatoes. However, not raw, but only cooked.

a basket with potatoes
a basket with potatoes

Not all potatoes are edible

Tubers with green spots are sorted out right at the potato harvest because they contain toxic solanine. Although not much, you still don’t want to eat the substance. It forms in the potatoes when they have received too much light during germination. This also happens if they are stored in too bright a place. Potatoes with wet, brown spots are also discarded. They indicate bacteria. Potatoes that have merely been damaged during harvesting can be eaten without hesitation, preferably immediately. Storage potatoes less than 3 cm (1.2 in) in size can be saved as seed potatoes for next year. However, only undamaged potatoes without bruises and with firm skins are suitable for storage. Otherwise rot is inevitable. Adhering soil does not interfere in storage, it even protects the potatoes and therefore stays on.

After harvesting, store your potatoes in a dark, cool, dry and frost-free place and they will keep for many months.

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