It is time to retrieve those potatoes you planted so long ago! For those of you that didn’t take some “new potatoes” from the ground months ago, it is the peak time, or depending where you live, the last weeks, to dig up your potato bounty.
The calendar might say one thing, but check the vines – their yellowing demise is to your benefit, as this means it is time for the potato harvest. You can either do this by hand, or with a shovel or spading fork. Unless you have a heavy, clumsy touch, doing it by hand is better, as a fork might be damaging to the vegetables.
If harvesting by hand, slide the back of your hand down the stem, get those fingers into the dirt up to the palm, then pull your hand down and away from the stem. Your potatoes should be lying four or five inches away from the visible part of the potato plant. Check all the way around the plant, though, then check again. Have you gotten them all? Any tubers left behind might grow into new plants themselves, and while this satisfies the “easy” ethos of our site, they will probably come up next season as weeds, and will easily get in the way of next year’s planting. Once you feel you’ve discovered all of the potatoes, big or small, before you go back inside give the area around the plants a vigorous forking. Hopefully you will not have to repeat this in a few days, but miracle spuds have been known to pop up through the frosty ground weeks after your harvest. If only growing roses was so easy!
It’s best to harvest potatoes in the morning on a sunny day. Brush off the dirt as they come from the ground and then you get to take a tea break – just leave them spread out in the sunlight for the rest of the day to thoroughly dry off and harden the skins before storing.
After lunch, sort carefully and place perfect specimens into hessian or paper sacks in a cool, dark but frost free place. Any potatoes that have been cracked or “forked” need to be used in the next week. If you won’t be eating them that quickly, throw them away before they have a chance to rot and spread their rot to the rest of the bunch.
Put your treasures into the garage, shed or basement, where they will sit happily for several weeks. If you’re hoping for longer storage, you’ll need to keep the bags in a dark room at a temperature between 38° and 40°F, but no lower. It’s worthwhile to empty the sacks after a month and throw away any potatoes that are going off. You’ve heard the term “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch”? Well, this is equally true with potatoes. And on a related note, don’t mix your apples and potatoes, or the entire sack of spuds will turn into a mushy brown mess!
Whether you dig your own potatoes or even (heaven forbid the laziness!) buy them at a store, don’t wash them until right before you use them. Washing potatoes shortens their storage life.
The planting has paid off, and now you can look forward to a Sunday roast, home-made chips with fish, or a simple fluffy baked potato glistening with melting butter. Perhaps, though, you’ve reached into the ground hoping for firm brown or red potatoes and found a disappointing blighted specimen? Is it disease? Bugs? Next time we’ll address some of the things that can go wrong when you grow your own potatoes.
Love the life you live,