Last Updated on April 5, 2023
Homegrown potatoes are arguably better than anything you can buy at a supermarket. Growing them however can be a bit tricky if you are inexperienced. One of the key things with growing them at home is to know when to pick potatoes.
Knowing how to harvest and handle homegrown potatoes after harvest will help you to end up with the maximum possible harvest your garden can produce. You will also be able to store them for a long, even through the winter months. To get to know when to pick potatoes, keep reading.
The Potato Plant
Solanum tuberosum, commonly known as potato is one of the most commonly grown and consumed vegetables worldwide. It is a staple for many traditional dishes and is used to make many fast food dishes and snacks.
Potatoes are a cool-weather vegetable and can be grown as a winter crop in areas with a warm climate. They belong to the nightshade family of plants which also has peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.
The potato plant has green leaves that grow on top of the soil and help you to see where your potatoes are planted. It also has a tuber, which is the enlarged underground portion, which we refer to as “the potato”. The tuber develops underground once the plants get to about 6-8 inches in height. This usually happens around 5-7 weeks after planting.
There are over 100 types of potatoes. They differ in skin and flesh colors, shapes, and sizes. Some of these are ideal for mashing, roasting, frying, and for making salads. Potatoes are also nutritious. The skin is especially nutrient-rich and provides u to 45% of an adult’s daily vitamin C and 18% potassium requirements.
Potatoes will grow well as long as they are provided with the right growing conditions. They do well in most types of soils and will produce a lot of good potatoes for your harvest.
Grow potatoes in an area where they will receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. The soil should be fertile, loose, and well-draining. Refrain from using any hard or compacted soil as it will lead to disfigured potatoes and will make harvesting difficult when the time comes. You can improve the quality of the soil by adding compost, and soil amendments, and preparing the soil before planting.
The ideal soil pH for growing potatoes is acidic and should be between 5.8 and 6.5. The temperature should be 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
The best time to plant potatoes is in the spring 2 to 4 weeks before the frost day in your area. The temperatures should still be ideal at this time. If planted at the right time, you should expect to harvest them late in the summer and can store them through the fall and winter months.
Harvesting potatoes can seem tricky, but it is pretty simple if you know what you are doing. Knowing when to pick potatoes is also key. They are best harvested on dry days as harvesting in the mud when it is raining may cause issues. Since you cannot see the tubers underground while you harvest, you need to be extremely careful not to puncture the tubers. If the soil is loose, it should be pretty easy to maneuver with your fingers, this will help you to avoid cutting on causing bruising on the skin of the potatoes.
Potatoes can tolerate light frost, but when the first hard frost is expected, it’s time to get out the shovels and start digging potatoes.
Knowing the right time to harvest potatoes and doing so will keep the vegetables from sitting too long in the ground, and will reduce the chances of attack by pathogens that target potatoes.
The size of your tubers should be about the size of a chicken egg or bigger when you harvest them. You can leave them to grow a bit more if you prefer. You should use a digging fork from around the edges and work your way into where your potatoes are planted. This should help loosen the soil without puncturing the potatoes. Once the soil has loosened, you can use your fingers to feel around and get the potatoes that you want out.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind when harvesting potatoes:
- Toughen up your potatoes for storage before harvesting them, by limiting how much you water them after the middle of August.
- Before harvesting your entire crop, dig up a small test hill to see how big or mature your plants are. The skin of mature potatoes will be thick and firmly attached to the potato flesh. Those that are still young will have thin skin that comes off the potato when gently rubbed.
- If the soil is wet when you harvest the potatoes, let them air dry completely before storing them.
- Check for any green pots on your harvested potatoes, if it is just superficial and can be trimmed off, the potatoes should be fine to keep. If the green goes deep into the flesh, throw away the potatoes as they may be poisonous.
- Cure your potatoes before long-term storage. Do this by letting them sit in temperatures of 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks. This time will give the potatoes time to heal or harden any small cuts that may be present. You do not need to cure them if you are going to eat them right off the ground.
- Store potatoes in a cool, dry, and dark place after harvesting. Too much light will turn them green, rendering them unsuitable for eating.
- Store the potatoes that are damaged, diseased, or bruise-free to avoid any storage problems.
- Store your potatoes in baskets, cardboard boxes, or crates with holes on the sides so the vegetables get enough ventilation to prevent rot.
- Regularly check on your stored potatoes and remove any ones that may get damaged or start to rot before they infect the others.
When to Harvest Potatoes in Containers
Whether you are harvesting potatoes from the ground, grow bags, containers, or grow beds, the method to follow is the same. When to pick potatoes, and how exactly to do it, will be the same.
Once your potato plants start to flower, you know it is almost time to harvest. Wait for a bit, just until the flowers start to dry and drop off the plant. After this happens, the potatoes will remain tender for about 2-3 weeks.
If you prefer to pick your potatoes at this stage, keep in mind that you will need to eat them soon after harvest as they do not store well. They are delicious but have really thin skins that affect their shelf life.
To harvest larger, more mature potatoes, you should leave them for longer than this in the soil. Growing them in a potato grow bed will help you easily monitor the size of your potatoes.
The longer you intend to let your potatoes grow for, the more you will need to protect them from animals, children, and pets so they can grow and mature well.
Because potatoes can be damaged by frost, you should always harvest them just before the frost hits, whether they are mature or still in their baby stage.
How to Know When Potatoes Are Ready to Harvest
So how do you know the best time to pick potatoes? Knowing when to harvest potatoes can be quite easy. Once the potato tubers have started to set, they are ready to harvest. You will know that they have reached this stage when you notice them flowering.
To harvest baby potatoes, dig up potatoes just as the plants have started to flower. Wait until the tops of the vines have completely died to harvest full-size potatoes. This shows that the plant has now directed all of its energy into growing the tubers.
As you figure out when to pick potatoes, watch out for other symptoms of disease with the die-off of your plants, as not all browning and die-off are part of the plant’s natural cycle.
Potatoes can tolerate light frost, however, when the first hard frost is expected you should pull off the shovels and start digging potatoes. So you should harvest all your potatoes before the frost hits or you might lose your crop.
If you do not harvest your potatoes, you will create a perennial patch of potatoes. Potatoes left in the ground and not harvested will either grow new plants, or sprout and produce new plants in the spring of the following growth season. Which of these happens will depend on the climate where you live.
How to Store Potatoes
How you store your harvested potatoes depends on the size of your harvest and how long you intend to store them for. If you are harvesting potatoes to consume within a few days, storage should not be a concern as you can store them anywhere.
To store them for longer, however, you should find them some space in a cool place with temperatures of between 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you store them in a warm place, they will be susceptible to diseases, decreasing their shelf life.
The storage space for potatoes also needs to have a humidity of about 80%, or the tubers will wither and dry out.
Make sure that the place is also not exposed to sunlight as this will cause the greening of the potatoes. Fresh air and ventilation are crucial for storing potatoes, airtight containers should not be used.
Never store potatoes with apples. The ethylene gas from apples will cause the potatoes to spoil.
Avoid storing potatoes in the fridge. This is because after potatoes are harvested, they convert starch to sugar depending on the temperature. They will do this if stored in the fridge, and the potatoes taste weird. Another reason is that storing potatoes in the fridge leads to an increase in the levels of acrylamide. This compound is produced when you cook potatoes at high temperatures. Acrylamide causes cancer in animals, so there is a good chance it might also be harmful to humans.
Depending on the variety, potatoes can last 4-6 months if stored well.
Conclusion – Know the Best Time to Pick Potatoes
Growing and harvesting potatoes at home is one of the most satisfying things to do. Digging them up makes for a fun activity that can be done with kids. Knowing when to pick potatoes and the best method to harvest will ensure that you get the best harvest and can store your potatoes well if you wish.
We hope you found this article on how to know the best time to pick potatoes informative and helpful.
An aquaculture specialist and freelance writer. Passionate about anything sustainable living, such as growing your own food, and if you can do it in conjunction with fish farming, even better! I currently work as an aquaculture researcher where I can expand and share my knowledge and skills on aquaculture, crop farming and adding value to wastewater by using it to grow food products. I enjoy reading and learning as much as possible, and writing is another avenue for me to share the knowledge I gain with others. I want my writing to inspire people to try their hand at gardening, whether indoors or outdoors. You can even start by keeping a few houseplants indoors to help you gain a bit of confidence if you need to.