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Harvest potatoes in the morning while it is still cool or warm rather than hot is better for the tubers but don’t leave them exposed to the light for more than a few hours or you will risk them going green and becoming inedible.
You’ve planted early, hilled carefully, cultivated and fertilized. Your potato plants are full and healthy. Now you’re wondering when to harvest potatoes you’ve so carefully tended. Knowing how to harvest potatoes will help you will help you get the greatest benefit from your crop.
If possible, storage potatoes should have a short drying or "curing" period of one to two weeks after the harvest. Curing allows any slight cuts or bruises on the potatoes to heal rapidly. Keep the tubers in a dark place with temperatures around 55° to 60° F with high humidity of up to 85 or 95 percent.
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Once past 12 weeks you should be looking at just over half a kilogram per plant. Some potatoes grown as earlies will just carry on bulking if left, Orla and International Kidney (Jersey Royals) being examples of potatoes grown as early varieties that are actually maincrops
If you'll be storing most of the late potatoes, wait for the best weather conditions possible before digging them up. Choose a warm, dry day after a period of little or no rain. Cloudy days are even better, since too much light turns newly dug potatoes green, changing their flavor.
Before placing the potatoes in storage, remove loose soil and take them indoors to further dry and cure. Cure potatoes at a temperature of 45-60 F (7-16 C) and high relative humidity (85 to 95 percent) for two weeks. Final healing of minor cuts and bruises and thickening of the skin occurs during the curing process.
After you decide when to dig up potatoes, get the whole family involved. Equipped with a small basket, even the smallest child can share in this fun and rewarding experience.
With the early crops you want to get them out of the ground as soon as you can to free up the space which there is just time to get some benefit from. I like to follow potatoes on with leeks or a green manure mustard. Leaving them in the ground once developed has no benefits and increases the risk of slug or other damage.
Harvest these early, small potatoes either by carefully lifting the mulch or digging into the hill and gently separating the tubers from the plant. Be careful to avoid injuring the roots and stressing the plant. You can harvest a whole plant and take all it has to offer if that way suits you better. No matter how you do it the end result is still delicious.
Approach from the side and carefully insert the fork, levering up to expose the tubers. Spread the crop on some dry ground for a few hours to set the skin and dry them. This will help them store better.
Exposed and about to be taken from their sanctuary the tender young potatoes just sit there unaware of their impending doom.
To check for crop maturity, dig up one or two plants, if the skins on the tubers are thin and rub off easily, the crop is not fully mature. The skins on mature potatoes remain firmly attached to the tubers.
Mmm Yum Organic Dark Red Norland Potatoes - Early maturing, red skin with white flesh.
Now that you know when to dig potatoes, the question becomes how. To harvest potatoes, you’ll need a shovel or a spading fork. If you’re harvesting for supper, drive your fork into the soil at the outside edges of the plant. Carefully lift the plant and remove the potatoes you need. Set the plant back in place and water thoroughly.
Take the time to grade your potatoes by sorting and discarding blemished, scabby, misshapen or injured tubers. Potatoes should be firm, free of soft spots, and disease for best storing.
If they are coming up dirty rinse them in a bucket of water before hardening. You don’t want them fully washed, just get the thick off.
How to chit your potatoes to get them off to a good start.
As you dig, be careful not to scrape, bruise or cut the tubers. Damaged tubers will rot during storage and should be used as soon as possible. After harvesting, potatoes must be cured. Let them sit in temperatures of 45 to 60 F. (7-16 C.) for about two weeks. This will give the skins time to harden and minor injuries to seal. Store your cured potatoes at about 40 F. (4 C.) in a dark place. Too much light will turn them green. Never allow your potatoes to freeze.
‘Charlotte’ AGM: This is a salad potato, with yellow-skinned waxy tubers. Treat as an early potato.
‘Desiree’: A firm favourite with rosy skin and pale yellow flesh. This is a versatile maincrop potato.
For winter storage, it’s best to let the plant and the weather tell you when to harvest potatoes. Wait until the tops of the vines have died before you begin harvesting. Potatoes are tubers and you want your plant to store as much of that flavorful starch as possible.
Rake off the mulch and plant trash from the bed before digging potatoes
Nigel Slater suggests roasting young potatoes, although it seems like an odd thing to do, it brings out their fudgy texture and crisp, papery skins.
During seasons when the soil has been quite moist (which makes hunting by hand tougher), dig up entire plants, harvest all the baby potatoes you can find and put the plants back in the earth. They'll survive this rude transplant and produce quite a few more potatoes. But working fast is important; freshly dug potatoes shouldn't stay in the sun very long.
The 3 week gap is to reduce the chance of any blight spores landing on the tubers and causing blight in storage.
When to dig potatoes for dinner is much easier. Wait until late in the season and take only what you need, carefully resetting the plant so the smaller tubers have a chance to mature.
With the bed clear digging can begin. This bed has been slowly harvested over the last few weeks but the remaining spuds have been left to properly cure for storage.
How to dig up potatoes
Potatoes need a sunny site away from frost pockets - the newly emerging foliage is susceptible to frost damage.
After you dig a few hills, you'll discover that all the potatoes in a hill are at pretty much the same level. Once you figure out how deep to dig your fork, you won't injure as many potatoes. Of course, if you've got some beginners on the work crew, there'll be a few spiked spuds. Put them aside for the evening meal; they won't keep. A pointed shovel does a good job, too. You can dig deep enough next to a hill to raise the entire hill at one time.
Put the potatoes in the dark after they've dried in the open for a short time. Don't leave them in burlap bags or other containers where light can penetrate and start them greening.
With the main crops which are bred to be stored, the haulm should be cut off a week or preferably two weeks prior to harvesting which encourages the protective skin to ‘set’.
When potatoes are exposed to light their skins start to turn green -- a sign that a toxic substance called solanine is developing. This occurs if potatoes aren't fully covered by soil while they're growing, if you leave them in the sun for too long after the harvest, or if they aren't stored in complete darkness. Potatoes you buy from the supermarket also turn green if they aren't stored in a dark place.
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After deciding when to dig up potatoes for winter storage, dig up a “test” hill for maturity. The skins of mature potatoes are thick and firmly attached to the flesh. If the skins are thin and rub off easily, your potatoes are still to ‘new’ and should be left in the ground for a few more days.
The other method is to grow the potatoes under black polythene. The tubers are planted through the black polythene. The advantage of this method is that there is no need to earth up and the new potatoes form just below soil level which means there's no digging to harvest them.
First early potatoes should be ready to lift in June and July, second earlies in July and August, maincrops from late August through October.
Leaving in the soil beyond two weeks has no benefit and just increases the risk of blight, slug or frost damage.
Harvesting potatoes used for winter storage should not be done until after the potato plants have flowered and the vines die off. Potatoes may be left in the ground to extract as much energy from the vines as possible as long as the soil does not freeze. If potatoes are allowed to freeze, they will be watery and unusable.