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When to Harvest Potatoes?

Do you have a green thumb that’s itching to pluck those delightful spuds out from the soil? Is your heart pounding with anticipation as you wonder if your potatoes are ripe for the picking? 

Calm your garden-loving soul.

Usually, it takes from two to three weeks post-flowering before you can start harvesting your potatoes. However, this timeframe can vary depending on a couple of factors we’re exploring below.

So, here’s your comprehensive guide to knowing the perfect time to harvest potatoes based on their different uses:

Signs Your Potatoes Are Harvest-Ready

Potato plants are quite eloquent when it comes to telling you they’re ready for harvest.

  • One key sign is the yellowing and wilting of the foliage. This means that the plant is done growing, and the potatoes are ready for your dinner table. However, be sure not to wait too long after this point, as the tubers may start to rot.
  • Another sign is the hardness of the skin. Rub your fingers along one of those earthy nuggets. If the skin stays firm and doesn’t rub off, then your potato is ready to be unearthed.

Just remember — patience is a virtue, even in gardening. The longer you wait (within reason), the bigger your potatoes will grow.

Harvesting New Potatoes

round shaped potato

Ah, new potatoes! These tender younglings are an absolute treat in salads or boiled and buttered up. Unlike their mature counterparts, these potatoes are harvested in their youth, ready to be enjoyed immediately.

New potatoes can be harvested 2-3 weeks after the plant has finished flowering. At this stage, they are small, and their skin is thin enough to rub off.

However, be gentle while digging these delicate darlings out — their skins are not fully formed and can easily be damaged. Carefully lever up the cluster of potatoes to reveal them in all their glory. Typically nestled 4 to 6 inches deep in the soil, using a garden fork gives you precision and prevents accidental cuts that a shovel might cause.

If you come across smaller potatoes, simply let them remain in place and gingerly replant them — they still have some growing up to do.

While the ideal scenario is to consume new potatoes fresh, if you find yourself with a surplus, worry not. These young spuds can be stored for several months — just remember to keep them in a dark location where temperatures hover around 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Harvesting Potatoes for Storage

bunch of potato in hand covering with muds

When harvesting potatoes for storage, timing is paramount.

You should wait until all the foliage has died off and then wait another two weeks, constantly hilling up the soil or adding mulch to protect the growing tubers from sunlight’s harsh rays. This extra waiting period allows the potato skin to harden off, making them suitable for storage.

Use a garden fork to unearth your bounty. Depending on the variety of potatoes and your specific growing region, harvest usually takes place in August or September.

Even if an early frost has claimed your plant, don’t fret — it won’t harm your tubers nestled underground. But beware of leaving them in the cold ground for too long, as they could freeze.

For those cultivating container-grown potatoes, you may find yourself ahead of the game due to warmer soil conditions. However, the harvesting cue remains the same — wait until the foliage dies back.

To check for ripeness, play a little thumb-wrestling with your potato skins. If they can stand up against your thumb’s pressure without rubbing off, then they’re ripe and ready for storage. Harvested prematurely, they’ll need to be treated as new potatoes and consumed sooner.

If you’re planning on storing your potatoes, resist washing them post-harvest. Instead, let them cure in a shaded location for a couple of weeks.

Once cured, brush off any dry soil and store them in a cool, dark place with good ventilation that maintains temperatures around 38-40 degrees Fahrenheit — like a basement or root cellar.

Remember: Moisture is their enemy during storage – so refrigeration is out of the question.

Inspect your stash carefully before storage. Any potato with damaged skin should either be discarded or eaten immediately, as they won’t last long in storage. Well-stored potatoes can last up to six months.

CAUTION: Beware of green-colored potato tubers and sprouts! They contain solanine, which can cause serious health problems if consumed in large quantities. Always avoid eating green potato skins or any green eyes and shoots on the potato.

Saving Potatoes for Replanting

As a gardener, your work is never truly done; each season’s harvest plants the seed for the next. If you’re planning on continuing your potato-growing saga, you’ll need to reserve some of your healthiest tubers from your main harvest — these will be your seed” potatoes.

Once winter’s chill has mellowed and spring is hinting at its arrival — typically three to four weeks before planting time — it’s time to prepare your seed potatoes:

  1. Bring them out into a warm, sunny spot and pamper them with moist burlap or dampened paper towels.
  2. Before long, the eyes will spring forth green shoots, signaling their readiness for replanting.
  3. When it’s time to plant, cut large potatoes into 2-ounce segments, ensuring each piece features a sprout. Leave these cut pieces exposed for a few days, allowing them to form protective skin over the flesh. This simple step can help fend off diseases and ensure a successful future harvest.
  4. Once the cut side has darkened, it’s planting time. Orientate each potato segment with the eye or sprout pointing skywards and let nature do the rest. Within a few months, each planted potato piece will give rise to an entire hill of new life and potential meals.

After all, gardening is more than just a hobby — it’s a continuous cycle of sowing, growing, and reaping!

Takeaway

Demystifying potato harvesting isn’t rocket science; it’s simply about understanding what your plants are trying to tell you and timing your actions accordingly.

Whether you’re craving a bowl of creamy mashed spuds right now or planning ahead for future crops or meals down the road, keeping these tips in mind will help you reap the best possible harvest from your beloved potato patch.

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