How do you know when your potato plant is ready to harvest? You can use this guide to learn when to harvest potatoes and enjoy them all year long.
As a gardener, potatoes are one of the most low-maintenance, satisfying vegetables to grow. Plant a single bit of tuber, and you’ll later feast on several pounds of food.
Why Knowing When to Harvest Potatoes Is Important
When planning our planting and harvest schedules, we know that growing various types of potatoes is one of the easiest and most unpretentious crops.
We plant our seed potatoes deep underground in late spring. While working and living life, potatoes are humbly multiplying into a viable, healthy food, enabling us to grow a year’s worth of food to feed our family.
Having a homestead in North Idaho has its seasonal challenges, with long winters and wet springs. Potatoes are a crop that will not survive a hard frost; therefore, knowing your frost date and when to harvest potatoes as part of our garden planning for serious food production is important!
We are fortunate that we don’t host many pests creating damaged potatoes before the potatoes are ready for harvest and storage. For this reason, we can leave our potatoes in the ground until the root cellar is at the proper temperature to store potatoes.
There are several ways to grow potatoes. Seek out the best way to plant them in your zone. We plant ours in the soil a foot or so deep without mounding, mulch or straw covering. Depending on where you live, different methods work best for specific zones.
New Potatoes vs. Storage Potatoes
Depending on the type of potato you’re growing, you can plant potatoes early enough to grow and harvest after 55-110 days and enjoy eating them throughout the summer. These early potatoes are also known as new potatoes and are thin-skinned, smaller and delicious!
Potatoes you keep in the ground for 150 or more days are thicker-skinned, larger, and winter well; these are storage potatoes. The growing season for each variety varies, whether harvested and used right away or cured for winter storage.
We plant an abundance of seed potatoes at the end of spring and the beginning of summer. Doing so provides potatoes to feed our family all summer and winter. Digging potatoes to eat fresh and still have enough for winter storage is fun, like a treasure hunt.
If you live in a zone where you can have multiple harvests, such as an early harvest for summer eating and another planting for fall eating with some stored over the winter, plant your first round in early spring.
Our growing season is short in North Idaho, so we plant one large crop in June with varieties for our growing zone. Unfortunately, sweet potatoes have a long growing season and are not one of the potato varieties we plant, but we enjoy growing multiple varieties of new and storage potatoes successfully.
Having the right tools for the job always makes efficient work on the homestead. Potatoes don’t need much, but having the tools we need during harvest is helpful.
- Buckets – Depending on the amount of potatoes you are harvesting, buckets, baskets, or a wheelbarrow is helpful.
- Broadfork – A broadfork (different from a garden fork) loosens the soil gently around the potatoes, helping to lift the potatoes from the soil for gathering. Be careful not to pierce the potatoes; when it happens, you should eat them within a few days.
- Drying Screens – Potatoes will need to be cured on drying screens before storage. If you do not have drying screens, cardboard can also work.
- Crates – We use crates to store potatoes; buckets or heavy cardboard boxes also work well.
- Storage Area – Keep the potatoes in a cool, dark, enclosed, pest-free place. Root cellars, garages, basements, drawers, and pantry shelves in the kitchen work well.
When to Harvest Potatoes
Pulling fresh potatoes out of cool, fluffy soil is by far one of our favorite harvest activities and a reminder of the joyous gifts of gardening.
We plant our potatoes deep, about 1.5 feet, without mounding, so when the potatoes’ flowers die back and the leaves have turned yellow and brown, it’s time to check them.
How to Harvest Potatoes
- Carefully dig with your broad fork around the outside perimeter of the dying foliage and pull up a couple of potatoes to see how they look. Then, use your hands to pull up the potatoes and leave them on top of the soil while you harvest your rows.
- New potatoes are thin-skinned and small. The skin will practically rub off with your thumb. Bring them inside a cool, well-ventilated space. Spread the potatoes, allowing air circulation and let them cure for 24 to 48 hours before storing.
- If the storage or mature potatoes are ready, pull them up carefully in the same way and leave them on top of the soil for 24 hours to dry naturally, then collect them and bring them inside. Homesteading Hack: Be aware of frost warnings, direct sun or rain, and bring them inside if those conditions are a present threat. An overcast day in the mid to low 60’s is perfect!
Curing potatoes allows you to reduce the moisture and bacteria that cause potatoes to decay. This step is crucial to heal minor damage and further skin thickening for long-term storage.
- In a dark place, set your potatoes on drying screens or spread them out on a shelf that allows for airflow, and let them cure at 45-60°F for two weeks. Because of our large harvest, we lay our potatoes out on the basement floor. Homesteading Hack: It’s best to wash potatoes thoroughly before you prepare and eat them. However, don’t remove or wash the dirt off during the curing process; it protects the potatoes from mold growth and pests. Simply brush off large clumps and store them.
- Inspect your cured potatoes for damage, and remove any soft or shriveled potatoes, placing them in your compost pile.
- Place remaining potatoes in crates and store them in a cool (45°F-55°) dark space with adequate airflow and out of direct sunlight.
Most varieties of potatoes in the right environment and temperatures will last several months. We sort through the potatoes (new and storage), looking for bad spots, blemishes, cuts or questionable potatoes. We use those potatoes first, eating them within a week or so.
We pack our potatoes into crates and place them in the unheated basement portion that acts as a root cellar. This dark, cool environment is ideal to prevent your potatoes from turning green.
Green potatoes occur when they are exposed to sunlight, even after harvesting. They will taste bitter and, in large quantities, can be harmful to eat. If your potatoes have turned green, we recommend removing them and placing them in your compost pile.
And that’s it! Knowing when to harvest potatoes will set you up to fill your root cellar with one of the world’s most common food staples, increasing your self-sufficiency.
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Other Articles You May Enjoy
- Planning Your Garden: Planting Dates and Harvest Schedule
- How to Grow a Year’s Worth of Food
- Crops That Will NOT Survive a Frost
- Garden Planning for Serious Food Production
- Crops That Will NOT Survive a Frost (Non-Hardy-Vegetables)
- Preservation 101: Root Cellaring
- Get a Jump Start on Early Spring Gardening
- Spring Garden Planning Ideas, Tips & Tricks