Harvesting potatoes: how & when to dig potatoes up

Regina
Regina
Regina
Regina

I studied horticultural sciences at university and in my free time you can find me in my own patch of land, growing anything with roots. I am particularly passionate about self-sufficiency and seasonal food.

Favourite fruit: quince, cornelian cherry and blueberries
Favourite vegetables: peas, tomatoes and garlic

When growing potatoes, everyone looks forward to harvest time. But how do you know when potatoes are ready to harvest? And how should you go about it?

Potatoes being dug up with a spade
Potatoes can easily be dug up with a digging fork, potato hoe or spade [Photo: Elena Masiutkina/ Shutterstock.com]

The potato (Solanum tuberosum) has a great heritage. Today there are many alternatives to the nutrient-rich potato, but it is hard to imagine kitchens without this healthy tuber. For hobby gardeners, the potato is popular in veg patches for several reasons: depending on the potato variety, it has colourful flowers, is relatively easy to grow and, if well cared for, rewards the gardener with a rich yield of tubers. Keep reading for helpful hints on when and how to harvest your potatoes.

Harvesting potatoes: the right time

When should you harvest potatoes? The window of time for harvesting potatoes extends over several months from the first early potatoes to the late potato varieties. Early potatoes can be harvested as early as mid-June and second earlies take a few more weeks to mature, being ready to dig up around July and August. Harvesting of maincrop potatoes usually takes place later, from late August to October. The choice of harvest time depends not only on the gardener’s preferences, but also on the potato variety and when the tubers are planted.

Tip: For late varieties that are to be stored, the following applies: When the above-ground plant has died, wait another two to three weeks before harvesting. This way, the skin has time to grow thick and robust, which significantly increases the shelf life.

A shaw of freshly harvested potatoes
When the leaves begin to die back, the skin of the potatoes will thicken and become more robust [Photo: rodimov/ Shutterstock.com]

How to harvest potatoes

Before harvesting the potatoes, remove the wilted foliage above ground. If you have placed your seed tubers in mounds, harvesting should be relatively easy. Be careful when digging up potatoes planted in shallow beds, as the soil is usually compacted, so you will need to apply more force when digging. To help keep strains and injuries to a minimum, we recommend a digging fork, rather than a spade, to gently lift the potatoes out of the ground. There are also special potato forks with rounded tips to protect the tubers from punctures.

Regardless of the tool used, it is best if the soil is relatively dry when harvesting. If the soil is moist, too much of it will stick to the potatoes, and they will need to be washed before storage. Any moisture on the potatoes in storage will promote the growth of harmful fungi and lead to premature spoiling of your harvest. Bruising on potatoes, however, is not a problem as long as the potatoes are dry. The tubers are quite robust and can be stored in boxes in several layers.

Tip: Make sure you get every potato, even the small ones, out of the ground. Otherwise, the potatoes left behind can germinate, and new plants will emerge the following year − which might not be in the best interests of crop rotation or your planting plans.

Potatoes being harvested with a garden fork
With compact soils, take extra care when digging [Photo: Eag1eEyes/ Shutterstock.com]

Harvesting potatoes in pots

Potatoes can also grow very well in pots. If you have planted your potatoes as instructed in our article on growing potatoes in pots, simply remove the prepared inner pot from the outer one for harvesting. Alternatively, with a little skill, you can carefully remove the outer tubers through the windows in the pot. Then gradually remove the excess soil to harvest all the potatoes, or you can put the inner pot back into the outer pot and harvest the rest of the potatoes later. If you decide to grow potatoes in a flowerpot or planting bag, the gentlest way to harvest them is to carefully dig them out with your hands.

Potatoes stored in a cellar along with jarred goods
Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place [Photo: ET1972/ Shutterstock.com]

Storing potatoes and preserving them after harvesting

The potato is one of those vegetables that stores well as it is, unprocessed. However, the right conditions for storage are crucial. Above all, the potatoes must be stored in a cool, dry and dark place to prevent premature germination. Humidity is also a decisive factor in ensuring that your potatoes last for a long time. High humidity, about 90%, is ideal for keeping potatoes fresh and preventing wrinkling.

What else should you consider when deciding on the best possible storage for your potatoes? Find out in our article “Storing potatoes: how & where to keep them“.

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