A popular member of the vegetable garden, the potato is one of the easiest crops to grow. A versatile, low-maintenance crop, potato plants help suppress weed growth and cultivate your soil. They are just as happy to grow in containers and raised beds or planters as they are in the ground.
But when are your potato tubers ready for harvest? And, perhaps more importantly, how do you harvest them? Our potato harvesting guide will tell you everything you need to know.
Rich in flavor and easy to grow, potatoes are an essential part of any vegetable garden.
When do I harvest my potatoes?
When your crops are ready for harvest depends on a number of factors, including local growing conditions and weather conditions. It also depends on the type of potato you have planted. Seed potato plants are divided into 3 categories:
- First early,
- Second early,
First first potato plants
As the name suggests, the first early potato plants are one of the first crops you can plant and, therefore, start harvesting. In most areas, gardeners can plant the first spikes from late February to mid-March. The tubers are ready for harvest about 10 to 12 weeks later. If the weather is favorable, you may be able to harvest a little earlier.
Early earlies are one of the easiest types of potatoes to grow because they rarely suffer from the blight. Known for their tender and savory taste, early earlies are generally smaller than the main culture varieties, about the size of an egg and with soft skin. Popular varieties include:
- Red Duke of York,
- Pilot Arran,
- Lady Christl,
- Pentland Javelin.
To know exactly when to start harvesting your first ears, pay close attention to their flowers. The first varieties produce flower buds which may or may not flower. When the buds start to drop or the flowers start to fade, it’s time to start harvesting your harvest. Some of the foliage may also start to turn yellow.
To check your crop before you start harvesting, gently move some of the soil around the top of the plant. If you find potatoes the size of an egg, you can continue to harvest. If you want slightly larger legs, leave them in the ground a little longer.
As the flowers disappear from the plant or the unopened flowers fall off, you can begin to prepare to harvest your potato crops.
Second early variety
The second counts are planted from the beginning to mid-March, usually from the first day of spring, about 2 to 3 weeks after planting your first counts. Some growers like to plant them along with their first spikes, but it’s best to wait. Waiting a few weeks means your second counts will be ready for harvest approximately 3 weeks after you lift your first counts. Popular second early varieties include:
- Husbands Peer,
As with the earliest counts, the easiest way to tell if your second earls are ready for harvest is to observe the flowers. As soon as wilted flowers or unopened buds start to drop from the plant, you can begin your potato harvest.
Usually planted about a month after your first second years, you can plant main crop potatoes from mid-March for an earlier harvest. The main crops mature in about 20 weeks. Tubers generally larger than the early varieties, they require a little longer growing time. Common main crop tubers include:
- King Edward,
- Purple majesty,
- Russet varieties,
- Pink fir apple.
As a rule, you can start harvesting the main crop potatoes in August. The harvest can last until September, depending on your planting date. Main crops are ready for harvest when most of the foliage is yellow and begins to turn brown or shrivel. Allowing the plant to die before starting to harvest allows the tubers to store a lot of starch. It helps fill them with flavor.
To harvest your main crops, cut the plant about an inch above the ground. Do not tear off the tubers yet. Wait a few more weeks, they keep perfectly well in the soil, before harvesting. It helps to heal the potatoes, harden the skin and make it easier to store. If you don’t plan on storing your main crop over the winter, you can start harvesting as soon as the plants are ready.
Larger tubers require a slightly longer growing time before they are ready for harvest.
When to harvest end of season tubers
If you’ve planted a late main crop for a winter harvest, let time and the plant tell you when to harvest. As with previous plantings, allow the tops of the plants to die off before starting to harvest.
Temperature can also influence the time of harvest. Potato plants can tolerate light frosts, but should be lifted and stored before the first hard frost arrives. The soil must be at least 40 ℉ and workable. After drying, the crop can be stored for use throughout winter and early spring. Growing a large late season crop that can be stored is a great way to grow your own food year round.
How to harvest your potatoes
Be careful when harvesting. Try to avoid damaging the tubers. This is especially important if you intend to store your spuds. Damaged tubers rarely store well and, instead, can cause your entire crop to rot.
Tubers are best harvested in dry weather. Too much moisture during harvest can promote rot and disease. Whether you grow potatoes in containers or in the ground, the harvest is largely the same.
How to harvest the first and second counts
I find it easier to use my hands to remove the first crops of potatoes. Gardening gloves help keep your hands fairly clean and protected.
Use your hands to reach for the ground and dig up as many legs as you can find. If you have amassed the soil around the plant during the growing process, carefully remove the soil and take the potatoes you want before you stir the soil around the plants. When harvesting, take just what you need, early varieties do not store well. They keep much better in the soil. In fact, many continue to grow and develop.
Remove the soil from the base of the plant and take the potatoes you need. After harvesting, stir the soil around the plant.
After harvesting, apply a fish emulsion fertilizer to the plants. This encourages a new set of tubers and new growth to form.
If you are growing your potatoes in a container such as the Delxo 7 gallon grow bags that have a harvest window, simply lift the flap and remove the soil until you find your potatoes. After you have harvested what you need, the soil can be replaced and the remaining potatoes can continue to grow until you are ready to use them.
When harvesting and handling the potato plants, you can see small potato seeds among the leaves. They often look like green cherry tomatoes. These are poisonous and must be destroyed or placed on the compost heap.
How to harvest your maincrop
For larger plants, you will likely need to use a garden fork to lift the entire plant. Insert the fork into the ground about a foot from the center of the plant. Push as deep into the ground as possible. You aim to lift the entire root mass into one. You may need to insert the fork a few times before you can do this. Remember to check the soil after lifting the plant for any potatoes you may have left behind.
After harvesting, brush off any dirt and allow the pellets to dry for a few hours before using or storing them.
Maincrop potato plants growing in containers can be harvested simply by spilling the contents of the container onto a tarpaulin sheet. You can also empty the ground into a wheelbarrow. Sift through the ground to collect all of your potatoes.
If you are harvesting main crop or potato tubers for winter storage, dig up a few for testing before harvesting the entire crop. The skins should be thick and firmly attached to the flesh. If the skin can be easily rubbed off the plant, the tubers are too new and should be left in the ground for a few more days.
When harvesting, be careful not to damage or cut the crop. Damaged tubers rot during storage.
After harvesting, dry the tubers by letting them sit in a dry position for about 2 weeks. During this time, the temperature around the crop should average 45-60 ℉. As the potatoes harden, their skin hardens and minor cuts seal. After drying, you can then store your tubers. If you don’t know how to store your potatoes after harvest, this is a great step-by-step guide.
When harvesting potatoes or removing them from storage, always check their skin color. Avoid green tubers. These have an increased level of alkaloids, usually caused by too much exposure to light. Green potatoes can also contain solanine. This not only makes them bitter, but is also poisonous. To avoid greening, keep your potatoes in as dark a position as possible.
Full of flavor, for many, a potato crop is the lifeblood of the vegetable garden.
While growing potatoes can take up a lot of space and require an efficient crop rotation system, it is well worth it. Freshly harvested potato tubers are more tender and with a richer flavor than store-bought potatoes. They are also one of the easiest crops to grow and harvest.