Harvesting, curing, and storing potatoes

When your potato plants begin to die back, it’s a sign that you can start to dig them up for winter storage.  You can leave them in your garden until the plants die back almost completely, but they don’t tolerate cold temperatures or frost.

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Before you dig up the entire patch, dig up one plant and test its tubers.  If their skins are thin and easily rubbed off, it’s too early to harvest.  The skins need to be thick and firm so that the potatoes will cure properly.

If you can, avoid harvesting your potatoes when the soil is damp.  You want the potatoes to be as dry as possible.

  1. Insert a shovel or garden fork at least a foot away from the plant, dig down about a foot, then carefully lift the plant up.
    Some varieties of potato plants develop tubers right under the plant, and others develop them quite far away, so you may need to adjust where you shovel to avoid impaling–or overlooking–any tubers.
    The tubers should become obvious as the roots are lifted and the dirt is loosened.  You may need to dig around the plant several times to find all of your treasures.
  2. Sort your potatoes according to size, type, and condition.  Knock off any clods of dirt that cling to them, but don’t wash them.
  3. Set aside any damaged potatoes; you will need to use these as soon as possible.
  4. Lay the rest of the potatoes out to cure in a relatively warm (~8-16 degrees Celsius) but dry place, for a week or so, until the skins have hardened.  I arrange mine on newspaper atop a hardwood floor in a room that gets some sunlight but is not too bright or hot.  If potatoes are exposed to too much light, they may turn green.
  5. After the potatoes have dried and their skins have hardened, arrange them in baskets, mesh bags or any containers in which the air can circulate around them (but light cannot get to them), ensuring they don’t touch each other.  At the time that you are packing them into their baskets, you may be able to gently brush off some more of the dirt that clings to them.
  6. Place them in dark, dry, cool (~4 degrees Celsius) location such as a root cellar or cold room.
  7. Periodically go through your stores to check for, and remove, any potatoes that have rotted.  One rotten potato can spoil others!
  8. Enjoy!  Potatoes can last up to a year if stored properly, but refer to the guidelines for the specific varieties you’ve planted for specific expectations regarding longevity.  I use small potatoes before large potatoes, and red-skinned potatoes before white and yellow-skinned potatoes.

 

Harvesting baby potatoes

Not only are potato blossoms beautiful, but they’re a signal that your plants are producing tubers.  A couple of weeks after your plants blossom, you can start carefully digging around for baby potatoes. Baby potatoes are sweeter than full-grown potatoes, as their sugars have not yet been converted to starch.

 

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Potato blossoms

 

If your soil is loose and dry, it’s easy to remove baby potatoes.  Starting several inches away from the plant, root around in the dirt with your fingers, careful not to break the roots, and remove the larger potatoes, leaving the smaller ones to mature.  If your soil is compact and or wet, you’ll need to use some sort of tool to gently pry up the dirt, while minimizing disruption to the roots and avoiding damage to the tubers themselves.  I prefer to use a hand weed digger to gently loosen the clods of dirt and then use my hands to find the tubers.

 

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Baby potato, weed digger, and uh – weeds!

 

Whichever method you use, ensure that you gently place the roots back in place and fill the soil back in.  Potatoes that are exposed to the sun will turn green, which makes them somewhat toxic!

The potatoes you leave in the ground will continue to grow, but you will not increase your harvest of potatoes overall by harvesting some as babies and the rest later, when the plant naturally dies off.

 

Direct sowing cool season crops

Once the snow has melted, and the soil is workable (that is, it is neither frozen, cold, or very wet), you may direct sow cool season crops.  These plants tolerate overnight temperatures that hover around the freezing mark, and even a touch of frost; they prefer the cool temperatures of spring and fall rather than the heat of summer, during which they may bolt (go to seed too quickly).

Refer to the seed package to see how many weeks prior to the last frost that you may sow the seeds.  The package may also list an ideal soil temperature.  You may choose to place row covers over the area that you are planting to expedite the warming of the soil and protect your plants from occasional cold nights.

The following plants are quite hardy, and can tolerate a soil temperature of around 5°C:

  • Leeks
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Spinach, lettuce, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, and other greens
  • Sunflowers
  • Turnip and rutabaga

The following plants are also quite hardy, though they prefer a slightly warmer soil temperature of around 10°C:

  • Broccoli (shown above), Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Kohlrabi
  • Onion sets
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips

Plant of the week: Potatoes

Everyone loves potatoes, don’t they? They’re versatile and they’re easy to grow. In fact, they’re one of those vegetables that can be grown in all sorts of containers and contraptions. Just google “potato towers” and you’ll see what I mean.

Ideal growing conditions

  • Potatoes are not grown from seeds; rather, they are started from seed potatoes, which are older potatoes that have begun to sprout. You can purchase certified seed potatoes from your local garden and hardware stores. Don’t try growing them from grocery store potatoes.
  • Each potato contains at least one “eye”, which is the location from which the sprouts emerge. Before you plant your seed potatoes, you can cut them into two or more pieces to make more seed potatoes, so long as each piece has at least three eyes. Let the cut potatoes sit for a day or two so the cuts can dry.
  • Plant “eye side up”, about 3-4 inches deep. You can plant them in trenches, rows, containers, or towers. The specifics vary according to the type of set up you wish to use.

A seed potato with two eyes.
  • Plant in full sun, as soon as the ground can be worked.
  • Potatoes prefer a light, loose soil that retains water well. They’re forgiving plants, though, so they will grow well in less than ideal conditions.
  • If you’d like to eat some of your potatoes small (as baby potatoes), then as the plant matures (at least halfway through the season), gently dig into the soil with your fingers to see if any potatoes are forming. If so, you can remove one or two from each plant and carefully put the roots back. Otherwise, you can dig out all of your potatoes when the plant dies off at the end of the season. Dig wide lest you slice into any of them!

Types

There are many varieties of potatoes, which can be categorized by their colours, their sizes and shapes, and their ideal usage. Some potatoes are better eaten young and others can be stored in a cold room for many months. Here’s some more information: https://www.potatogoodness.com/pota….

Friends

  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Corn
  • Broccoli
  • Coriander
  • Eggplant

Foes

  • Tomatoes. Tomatoes and potatoes are each susceptible to blight. Don’t plant them next to each other and don’t plant them where the other type of plant grew the year before. You may want to keep the potato plants out of the compost you intend to put on the garden, just to be sure.
  • Pumpkins
  • Cucumbers
  • Melons
  • Sunflowers

Fun facts

  • Potatoes are the fourth most common food staple in the world, after wheat, corn and rice.
  • They’re usually pollinated by bumblebees.
  • The potato was the first plant to be grown in space!