Harvesting and storing main crop potatoesPosted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg
If you planted seed potatoes earlier this year, I hope you have been rewarded with a good crop. I seem to have had the usual varied success rate: disappointing first earlies but a super crop of ‘Charlotte and ‘Pink Fir Apple’ – the latter, really a main crop, but great if lifted earlier in the summer and eaten as part of a salad or other summer dishes. I still have a crop of ‘Desiree’ potatoes in the ground, waiting to be harvested, a job for the coming weekend perhaps.
When to harvest potatoes
How do you know when potatoes are ready to dig up, or ‘lift’ to use the correct and appropriately descriptive term? The appearance of the foliage is a tell-take sign, flowering now over and the leaves and stems beginning to wilt - referred to as natural die-back, when each potato plant has soaked up enough sun and rain to feed the developing tubers which are deep in the soil. If you have been earthing up your rows of potatoes, this should have encouraged each plant to produce more tubers along the length of the root system.
How to lift main crop potatoes
When it’s harvest time, I work my way along a row, a plant at a time and begin by gently pulling the foliage up. This may bring a few smaller potatoes with it, still clinging to the stringy roots, but will also indicate where best to dig. If you are into gardening gadgets and must-have tools, why not treat yourself to a potato fork with its flat tines, or a potato scoop, both designed to gently ease the potatoes from the ground without causing them any damage. I use my trusty spade, rather than a garden fork (nothing more dispiriting than ‘spearing’ a prize-winning spud!), inserting the blade into the ground alongside, rather than in the centre of the clump of potatoes, and lever the soil up, picking up the spuds as they appear and popping them into a bucket. It’s satisfying work, revealing the potatoes in all their glory from the dark earth – if you are lucky, a single seed potato yielding a dozen or so delicious spuds depending on the variety and growing conditions.
Storing the crop
Unlike varieties classed as ‘early’ which are intended for eating as soon as they are out of the ground, main crop potatoes should store well for many weeks if the conditions are right, so here’s what to do. Once out of the ground, wipe each potato with a gloved hand, cloth or brush to remove most of the soil, then leave the potatoes in a sunny spot until they are completely dry. A hessian or strong paper sack makes a perfect container for your harvest of potatoes which then needs to be kept in a cool, dry place. If stored correctly, you’ll be able to enjoy your own potatoes roasted on Christmas Day!
It is definitely worth keeping a note of which varieties of potato you plant each year and a general idea of the yield. Not only is it satisfying to look back at what you have grown, but will also help you plan for the coming year when it comes to choosing your favourite varieties to plant.