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.
"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.
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.
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:
By Ellen Brown
I grew potatoes in my garden, the vines are dying and the potatoes are done. The problem is it is still too hot to store them, can I leave them in the ground until cooler weather?
Hardiness Zone: 6a
By Robert from Columbus, OH
Just dig them before the first hard freeze. Frozen potatoes rot quickly. It won't hurt them if it is 32, but depending on how deep they are you don't want to leave them when it gets down into the 20's.
I dug up 6 rows of my potatoes and there is hardly any skin to the potatoes. The tops of the plants are all brown now as we have had 2 heavy frosts. My question is should I leave them in the basement (our basement is warm) for a few days before putting in the cool cellar or should I put them right in the cellar? I let the potatoes dry outside before bringing them in.
This year we put a fair amount of peat moss and sand in our garden. The last 3 or more years the ground has been so hard that I couldn't get the weeds pulled out. What do you suggest? Why do you think my potatoes did not form a thick skin?
Waiting, wondering, and hoping they will keep!
By Norine from St. Paul, Alberta Canada
I forgot to write down from my potato package how long it would be before they would be ready to dig.
By Linda B
It depends on if you're growing early or maincrop potatoes. Earlies are usually ready about 10-12 weeks after sowing, about a couple weeks after the plant blooms. Maincrop potatoes are usually ready in about 18-20 weeks, after the foliage has begun to wilt.