Potato plants ready for harvest

When potatoes are ready for harvest, the plants look pretty shabby.

Earlier in the season I wrote about planting potatoes in a re-purposed, three-bay composting bin.

We had a very rainy year and the potato plants loved all that moisture. Most of them grew to almost 4 feet tall. The crop looked promising, but a funny thing about growing potatoes is that you don’t know for certain what you’re going to get until you dig them up.

By mid-August the plants were well past their prime. Snails and slugs had damaged the foliage and many of the stems were bent down onto the ground. The fact is, when potato plants are ready to harvest they always look awful. The tops wither and the foliage starts to brown. It’s just not pretty.

Because late blight is rampant on the East Coast this year and it’s a disease that affects potatoes as well as tomatoes, I was eager to get my potatoes out of the ground before the leaves could become infected. In another year I might have waited another couple weeks until the foliage was totally dead.

We started by chopping off the foliage with hedge shears. This step isn’t necessary; it just made it easier to see what we were doing. The trickiest part about harvesting potatoes is to not puncture the tubers as you’re digging. Any tubers that get punctured or have their skin damaged should be eaten right away. You need to dig deep and come up under the tubers to loosen the soil and gently lift them.

We harvested as a team with one person using a garden fork to lift the soil and the other person on hands and knees, sifting through the soil for tubers. If you have a modest amount of potatoes to dig (under 100 lbs.), I find this is the best technique. This way I can make sure that I find even those tiny little quarter-size tubers (yum!). The white and red potatoes were relatively easy to spot in the soil, but the dark blue ones were nearly impossible to see, so we did it by feel.

For me, digging potatoes is a top-10 gardening activity. It’s like a treasure hunt. Our booty: 83 lbs. of organic potatoes.

P.S. Not having to dig for your potatoes is a big advantage to using a Potato Grow Bag. When it’s time to harvest, you can just tip the bag on its side and let the potatoes tumble out, as shown in the video, below.