Harvesting Potatoes

If you like potatoes, consider planting a few hills in your garden. For the small amount of space they take up, they will easily earn their keep by providing you with a high return on your investment. Not only do fresh garden-grown potatoes taste better than store-bought potatoes, but they also keep better in storage. Here are some tips for harvesting and storing them.

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How to Harvest

"New" Potatoes: The small, thin-skinned potatoes you see at the grocery store that are commonly referred to as "new" potatoes are actually young, immature potatoes. They are a delicious treat when boiled (keep the skins on) and can be harvested as soon as your potato plants start to blossom.

To harvest them, simply sweep aside the dirt around the base of the plants and gently pick off tubers of the appropriate size. You can remove several tubers without hurting the plant and sacrificing your later harvest. Early potatoes have very thin skins and don't store well. It's best to harvest what you need and wash and eat them immediately after harvesting.

Mature Potatoes: When your potato plants turn brown and start to die back, they have sent the last of their energy into the ground to the growing tubers. It's at this point that your potatoes have officially reached maturity and are ready for harvest. You can dig beneath the plants by hand and remove them individually, or lift several out several at once by digging along the edge of a row using a 5-pronged garden fork.

Try to avoid spearing or nicking any of the potatoes, since damaged potatoes don't store well and need to be eaten right away. Don't worry about removing any attached stems. They will fall off as your potatoes dry. Lay newly harvested potatoes out in the open to dry out for a couple of hours (in the shade), then brush of any remaining dirt with a soft cloth. Don't wash them to get them clean, as they are very hard to get dry again.

Green Spots: Green spots on potatoes indicate the presence of solanine, a toxic, bitter tasting substance that develops when potatoes are exposed to light-either while growing or while they are in storage. Solanine can make you seriously ill when ingested in large enough quantities. Because the damage is usually located just under the skin, you can usually peel or cut away green spots and eliminate the problem. If the potato is more than half green, throw it out.

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The Curing Process

Potatoes are relatively thin-skinned and will invariably suffer a few minor dings and bruises during harvesting. In order to extend their storage life without a loss of flavor and seal up any minor wounds, it's necessary to toughen up their skins through the process of curing. To do this, spread your potatoes out on newspapers in a dark place where the temperature is about 50 F to 60 F and the humidity high. Leave them to cure for about 2 weeks before moving them to storage.

Storing Your Harvest

The key to successful storage of your potato harvest is providing them with the correct conditions. This means storing them in a dark, moderately humid location at temperatures around 40 F. Your potatoes are still "breathing" and carrying out a certain number of biological processes during storage, so the ideal container needs to provide plenty of air circulation.

Store them in wooden barrels, crates, or bushel baskets. Metal or plastic garbage cans will work as long as there are ample air holes punched in the sides and bottom. You can also pile potatoes loosely in the corner, provided you don't pile them too deep.

Additional storage tips:

  • Potatoes that are visibly nicked or bruised during harvesting won't store well, so eat them as soon as you can. Check your harvest regularly for signs of rotting potatoes.
  • With proper care, potatoes can be stored all winter (4 to 6 months). Do not wash them until you're ready to eat them.
  • To prevent sprouting, keep stored potatoes in the dark and make sure the temperature remains below 50 F.
  • Don't store potatoes in the refrigerator or at temperatures too much lower than 40 F. Cooler temperatures slow down the natural "breathing" process that occurs during storage and cause starches in the potatoes to turn to sugar. This results in a sweeter taste. If you find your potatoes getting sweet, "recondition" them (convert the sugar back to starch) by bringing a small amount out of storage and letting them sit at warmer temperatures for a week or so before eating.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

July 31, 20110 found this helpful
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Wow, I just harvested potatoes a couple of days ago. Good timing.

I planted some sprouting grocery store potatoes in the spring. Too bad I didn't see this first, I made a couple of mistakes. The storage instructions are pretty helpful so I can cure them correctly. I'll do better next year. :)

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August 1, 20110 found this helpful
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What I like about growing potatoes is that I can plant them throughout the growing season - they are not a one-time planting time. I plant a few potatoes every few weeks from end of first frost until September for a variety of potato sizes. Also, with a limited area to plant, I can recondition the soil and plant again and again in the same place with the same great results. Great idea for a family that absolutely loves potatoes!

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August 2, 20110 found this helpful
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We have cats. And therefore a lot of plastic pails from the litter (Wally's world). I plant my potatoes in the plastic pails and in the bags that potting soil came in. At the end of the season, I will dump my potatoes out onto a tarp to harvest and then the soil will go into the garden to help build and improve it for further years along with the compost from the "leavings". The fall can be wet and rainy here on PEI and I just don't relish digging in the garden in the muck. Have attached a photo taken recently.

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August 4, 20110 found this helpful
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Ellen, thank-you very much for this column, the information will be shared with neighbours here who are joining my husband and me in the 'Good Life' exercise by planting vegetable gardens.

Although Scotland is a country filled with farms and farmers, our neighbours and my husband have never grown so much as a radish, and every good piece of information is fantastic. We live in what is known as a market town, with farms all around us-there are three at the top of our lane. But most of the gardening done here in our neighbourhood was ornamental when I married and moved here a year ago-people had got away from growing their own.

Well, I'm an American who grew up growing her own, lol, and I didn't waste too much time tearing up the front and back gardens to plant FOOD:) This year several of our neighbours have done the same, and I've met many while out in my gardens when they stop to ask what I'm growing, how to get started, etc. We don't have the usual allotment plots that so many in the UK have for growing veggies as most of us have plenty of room in this neighbourhood to plant lovely beds-I shocked several neighbours last year when I told them that lovely (whatever) is edible but I notice they are doing the same sort of planting this year:)

Potatoes have lovely flowers, and are very decorative, lol!

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August 1, 20110 found this helpful

If you can grow potatoes and a few other things, tomatoes, squash, you will never go hungry!

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