October 16, 2014

How to Harvest Potatoes - Photo by Jessica Walliser (HobbyFarms.com)

I wasn’t going to plant potatoes in the garden this year, but when I went to the nursery in May and saw the baskets of seed potatoes lined up on the shelf, I couldn’t resist. I ended up planting 8 pounds of Kennebec seed potatoes.

Kennebec is a great potato variety to grow here in the Northeast. It has light-tan skin with white flesh. I like it because it is super easy to peel, stores well and a really good producer in my garden. In fact, sometimes the yield is too good—we’ve had years when we can’t eat them all before the eyes start sprouting! Throughout the season, I’ve managed to harvest about 75 pounds of both mature and new potatoes. That’s a lot of spuds!

If you grow potatoes and you don’t harvest new potatoes, you’re missing out. New potatoes are immature potatoes with delicate skin and a short storage capacity, they have a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. I start harvesting them when the plants come into flower, sneaking a few new potatoes away from each plant for the occasional quick dinner while leaving the main crop intact.

To harvest new potatoes, I sink a pitchfork into the soil a foot or so away from the base of the plant and gently pry up part of the plant, usually taking three or four of the bigger tubers. The skins of new potatoes are paper thin and easily bruised, so we cook and eat them immediately.

Like most gardeners, my major potato harvest arrives a few weeks after the plants turn completely brown and die. I just dug up the rest of my harvest late last week, because even after the plants are entirely dry, I allow the tubers to sit in the ground for two to three more weeks. This underground resting period hardens off the skins and makes them better able to withstand long periods of storage. The process is known as “curing.”

When I harvest my mature potato crop, I use a digging or pitch fork to gently lift the entire plant up and out of the ground. I sink the fork at least 12 inches into the soil because some of the tubers can be quite deep, especially if the soil is soft. Then I dig around in the loosened soil with my hands and gently remove all the tubers. If I don’t wash the harvested potatoes, they’ll store for several months in the dark, cool conditions of my basement. I simply brush off the excess soil with my hands and place the tubers in a shallow box or in brown paper bags. We eat any that get cut or bruised during harvest within a few days. I discovered that if one “bad” potato is put in the same storage box as unblemished tubers, the resulting rot can ruin the entire batch.

I hope your 2014 potato harvest was as prolific as mine. What’s your favorite variety?

Use your home-grown potatoes in these recipes

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