One of the easiest garden crops to grow is potatoes. Potatoes are a good choice for all gardeners because they are relatively simple to plant, care for and fun to dig up.
The glorious surprise of your bounty increases the fun that is harvesting potatoes. Each plant can easily give you around eight to ten tubers.
It is hard to imagine any kitchen without this nutrient-rich staple. There is a wide variety to choose from with different sizes, tastes, colors, and uses.
Because potatoes grow inside the ground, it may not be easy to know when it is time to harvest. Don’t worry; this can easily be worked out by knowing the type you planted and when you planted them.
The Two Main Types of Potatoes
The time it takes for a potato plant to produce tubers depends on whether the potato is an early potato variety or a maincrop (storage) variety.
Early Potato Variety
Early potatoes take less time from planting to harvest, around eight to fourteen weeks, and grow a good crop of thin-skinned new potatoes.
Some grow faster than others, the quickest being ‘first early potatoes’. Depending on the variety, this type can be harvested eight to twelve weeks after planting.
The other group, ‘second early potatoes,’ generally needs 14 to 16 weeks after planting to be mature enough to harvest.
This is great news because you can stagger your harvest by planting first and second early potatoes in your garden.
You can plant them at the same time or give a couple of weeks in between to stagger the harvest a little more.
Maincrop Potato Variety
The maincrop varieties take a long time to get ready for harvest, often around five months, and you’ll get thick-skinned potatoes that you can store for months.
There are also early maincrop potatoes that are ready for harvest between 16 to 20 weeks after planting and some that need a little more time.
When to Harvest Early Potatoes
First, early potatoes would be ready for harvest if planted two weeks before the last frost. Early potatoes can be ready to harvest in as little as two months.
You can start harvesting when they are the size of an egg or leave them in the ground for an extra week or two to get bigger.
The second early potatoes will be ready for harvesting two weeks later than the first earlies, which is good because you’ve possibly finished eating your bounty from the first early group.
Most early potato varieties will produce flowers in June. Once the opened flower begins to fall or the unopened buds drop, you know that your potatoes are ready for harvest.
Early potatoes’ tenderness and fresh flavor don’t last long, and they don’t store well, so make sure you eat them quickly after harvesting.
When to Harvest Maincrop Potatoes
As mentioned earlier, maincrop potatoes need a lot more time than early potatoes to grow to maturity.
During that time, they swell and develop, resulting in a large harvest in both size and quantity.
Harvesting maincrop potatoes usually takes place from August to September. You’ll know it is time when the foliage starts to turn yellow.
They will eventually wilt and dry, leaving only brown stems and leaves behind. Cut the foliage to an inch or two off the ground when this happens.
Then leave the tubers for two weeks before harvesting them. That will use that time to grow thicker skins that will help them last longer in storage.
If you’ve determined that your potatoes have blight, cut off all the foliage and burn. Wait two weeks, then remove the tubers from the ground.
Throw away any that has black spots or remains wet after drying.
How to Harvest Potatoes
You’ve planted, grown, and watched; now, it is time to reap your bounty. There are different ways to harvest potatoes, depending on how they are grown.
If you’ve planted in the ground, use a shovel or garden fork to dig them up. Dig a good distance from the plant, about 12 inches from the base.
If you’re harvesting only for dinner, carefully lift the plant and remove the potatoes you need, then set the plant back in place.
Be careful not to scrape or bruise the tubers while digging. If there are any damaged tubers, set them aside to be eaten that day because they will rot if stored.
Another way to grow potatoes is under mulch, sometimes called no-dig potatoes. This way, you must push aside the mulch to get to your crops.
Potatoes can be easily grown in containers. Some gardeners prefer growing this way. It is also easy to harvest potatoes grown in pots.
After your potato plant has finished growing, all you have to do is upend the container and pull apart the soil, and you’ve gotten to your tubers.
Check the ripeness of your potatoes by gently rubbing the skin of the tuber. If it peels off easily, they are still new and should be regarded as new potatoes and eaten soon.
They should be left in the ground for a few more days to get thicker skin so they can be suitable enough for long-term storage.
How to Store Early Potatoes
Early potato varieties are thin-skinned and do not store well. They tend to lose flavor if stored for long after harvesting.
Alternatively, you can leave them in the ground for longer. The tubers will get bigger but retain that tender, new skin.
Keep in mind that if you leave them for too long, the skin will thicken, and they may lose that flesh texture.
How to Store Maincrop Potatoes
Maincrop potatoes are suitable for long-term storage, so you’ll have no problems keeping them.
First, choose only the undamaged tubers for storage. Please do not wash the soil off the potatoes, or it will shorten their shelf time.
Cure the potatoes by letting them sit in temperatures of 45 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks. This will dry them completely.
After curing, check to see if there are any wet spots. They could be indications of rot or disease. If you find any, set them aside to cook immediately.
Store your potatoes in a cool, dark, dry place to prevent premature germination. You can keep them in the garage, root cellar, basement, or shed.
Check in on them regularly to look for signs of pests or rot. Always eat the best ones first.
My favorite part about growing potatoes is that the whole family can share the experience. Get your family involved, down to the smallest child.