When and How to Harvest the Potatoes Growing in Your Own Backyard
From digging tips to storage suggestions, two experts share their top methods for cultivating the popular vegetable.
Easy to grow and a pantry staple, potatoes are a functional addition to any vegetable garden. "Container gardening is an easy way to grow potatoes if you have a small space, and makes enough potatoes to feed a family," says Samantha "Foxx" Winship, founder of Mother's Finest Family Urban Farms. However, if you don't know when and how to harvest potatoes correctly, cultivating them can be tricky. "With most plants you can watch the fruit develop above ground," explains Christopher Landercasper, director of farming operations for Sonoma's Best Hospitality Group. "With a potato, I really don't know how they are doing until I dig them up."
Fortunately, with the right timing and tools, harvesting potatoes at home can be a breeze. "Harvesting is as simple as grabbing a shovel, or a digging fork for smaller areas, and discovering what lies beneath your plants," Landercasper explains.
When to Harvest Early Potatoes
According to our experts, the best time to harvest your potatoes will depend on the type of crop you've planted. "Early potatoes can be harvested in early to midsummer, when they are starting to flower," Landercasper says. "These will not store well, but if you want to have some delicious potatoes and are growing enough of them to harvest a few early, they are an amazing summer treat."
When to Harvest Main Crop Potatoes
For main crop potatoes, Landercasper recommends waiting until the plants have died and dried up, so you know that the skins are firm. "In warmer climates, this is usually in August or September," he says. "In places with a colder climate, you can wait until the frost kills the plant and then dig them up." Once the top of the plants die, Winship suggests cutting the browning foliage to the ground and waiting 10 to 14 days before harvesting to allow the potatoes to develop a thick enough skin.
The Best Soil Conditions for Cultivating
Wet soil can make harvesting your potatoes much more difficult than it needs to be. "If the soil is too wet, it can stick to your potatoes when you dig them up," Landercasper says. "Your potatoes will keep much better if the soil shakes off of them when you dig them up." Additionally, Winship warns that overly watered soil can also cause potatoes to prematurely rot, so it's important to not harvest them on rainy days.
How to Harvest Potatoes and the Best Storage Methods
To harvest potatoes, Landercasper says to use your shovel or fork to dig up the soil, starting about 12 to 18 inches from the edge of the leaves of your plant. "After you have removed the first shovel full, check the removed dirt for potatoes," he says. "Then, using your hand, check the edge of the hole closest to the plant to see if you can feel any potatoes. If you don't feel any potatoes, dig a few inches closer to the plant and repeat as necessary."
Landercasper says the key to storing your harvested potatoes is choosing a cool, dry place. "In a best-case scenario you want them to be in a 44-degree [Fahrenheit] cool room with low humidity and light," he says. "If they are stored cooler, they tend to lose flavor and become starchy faster; and if they are stored warmer, they tend to spoil more quickly."
What to Do for Soft or Sour Potatoes
If your potatoes start to go soft after harvesting them, Landercasper recommends replanting them. "If you accidentally damage your potatoes while harvesting them, or they go sour, replant them in the spring and let them regrow until the late fall," he says. "Then you'll have a late crop to harvest around Thanksgiving."