from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Time to Harvest Potatoes!

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.

5 Comments

  1. August 28, 2009    

    Sure was nice to websurf to this blog tonight. The potato growing was not even in my mind, and there is one side of our house that we want to grow food in. An unused side yard with decent light. I forgot how good the pototoes were growing up from my mother’s garden in Beaverton.

    Cheers.

    M. D. Vaden of Oregon

  2. August 28, 2009    

    Hi MD,
    I served the first of the red ones to guests last Saturday. Cooked them covered, in a little water then tossed with butter, chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Everyone commented about how creamy and intensely-flavored they were. I bet yours will taste just as good as good as you remember them! -Kathy

  3. Anonymous
    November 3, 2010    

    When I was a kid, it would’ve seemed odd to enjoy gardening – when we had our full-acre victory garden in 1943 it was drudgery. Now that it’s much more difficult, it’s nostalgia, andcedayed I’d really enjoy digging a mess of potatoes – and all this sounds nothing less than wonderful. In the city we tend to forget how good this truck can be when it’s fresh. May have to go for some grow-bags!

  4. Anonymous
    November 5, 2010    

    I purchased grow bags this year and planted one bag for my mom and did two for myself. One bag for each of us contained half Yukon Golds and half red potatoes. In the third I planted some fingerlings. I had a plethora of foliage – they’re actually pretty plants with flowers. We both had quite a crop, but mine were on the small side (not a problem as they’re yummy). Next year I’m going to plant a bit earlier, add more compost, and hold up a bit on the fertilizer – I think I had more energy going into foliage. Harvesting was so easy! I just dumped each bag into my big wheelbarrow, sorted through to find my potatoes, and that was it – no digging. I hosed out my bags, let them dry and they’re folded away for next year. Most of my gardening is done in containers on a deck because the deer eat everything. The self-watering containers are wonderful and I had tomato plants taller than I am with a bumper crop this year. Peppers and eggplant did very well, as did my patty pan squash. I plant red, pink, and purple flowers in with the veggies to attract bees – I was hand pollinating the squash until I tried the flowers and it works.

  5. November 5, 2010    

    Hooray for bountiful gardens — and for your success thwarting the deer!
    -Kathy

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We are an employee-owned company of avid gardeners, located in Burlington, VT.