Potatoes can be easy to grow and are a versatile kitchen staple that can be prepared in a variety of ways, making them a must for many gardeners. As you may already know, potatoes are tubers, meaning they develop under the soil, which can make it tricky to tell when they're ready. Follow this guide on how to harvest potatoes to make the most of your bountiful garden.
The best time to grow potatoes depends on where you're growing them. Potatoes grow best in cooler weather, so you can plant your tubers just before the last spring frost date if you live in Northern regions. In Southern areas with milder winters and high summer temperatures, potatoes are typically grown as a fall or winter crop. In these regions, you can expect to plant anytime from September to February. Potatoes do best in hardiness zones 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Check your garden growing zone to determine the best time to plant for your area.
When Do You Harvest Potatoes?
New potatoes are typically ready to harvest about 10 weeks after planting. Look for those first potato blossoms to appear, and you'll know it's time. Then, continue to look to the plants for signs that your potatoes are fully mature. Mature potatoes should be harvested about two weeks after the flowers and vines begin to yellow and die. Potatoes can handle a light frost, but make sure to dig them all up before the first heavy frost.
How to Harvest Potatoes
Once you've established that your potatoes are ready, how you dig them up is essential to enjoying your entire harvest.
The key to harvesting new potatoes, or immature potatoes, is to pick a few from each plant and leave the rest undisturbed. Gently move back the top layer of soil using a trowel or just your gloved hands. Pick a few potatoes, being careful not to injure the roots or other tubers. Replace the soil and pack it down lightly with your hands. These new potatoes are young with a thinner skin and should be eaten right away for the best flavor. Any potatoes left undisturbed will continue to mature to the full-grown potatoes you might usually expect.
Once your potato crop is fully mature and ready to harvest, choose a sunny, dry day to dig them up. Using a spading fork, work your way from the outside of the row or container inward. Turn over the soil carefully to avoid damaging the potatoes. After you've dug them all up, leave them out in the sun to dry for an hour.
Unlike new potatoes or other crops you can harvest in small groups, a mature potato crop is harvested all at once, so you may want to store some for later use. Store the freshly picked potatoes in a dark, dry place at about 65 to 70 degrees F for a week. They can continue to be stored in a cool, dry space at 35 to 40 degrees F away from any light for several months.
What to Expect From Your Harvest
Each mini-tuber planted should result in about five to 10 potatoes grown, depending on the length of the season and the plant's health. Many factors, like soil type, can impact the size of your harvest. Potatoes grow best in loose, well-drained, acidic loam soil. If your soil contains a lot of clay, you'll need to amend it or consider growing in containers for a better harvest.
Water is another critical component in a healthy harvest. For tubers to develop correctly without knobbing and cracking, keep your plants well-watered throughout the growing season. Give them about 1 to 2 inches of water per week, more in hotter temperatures. A drip system works best for delivering low-pressure watering to avoid disrupting the top layer of soil and maintain moisture without oversaturating.
It's also important to keep in mind that the more new potatoes you pull, the smaller your mature crop will be later. How you pull those initial baby potatoes can also affect your final harvest. It's critical to remove new potatoes carefully so that there's no damage to the plant's roots, which can minimize the output of mature potatoes.
Different varieties may take longer to mature than others. For example, the 'Rio Grande Russet' will be ready to harvest about a month sooner than the 'Red Gold,' which is why it's essential to grow different potato types in separate beds or containers. If you plant late-season varieties with early ones, the potatoes will be disturbed and damaged during the earlier harvest. Regardless of the type, the signs your crop is ready and the harvesting methods remain the same.
Once you take the mystery out of harvesting, potatoes are one of the easiest crops to grow. With a bit of time and experience, you'll enjoy a healthy harvest each growing season.
If you have more questions about growing potatoes, check out Burpee's potato guide.