So you chitted, planted, earthed up and watered your potatoes and you’re wondering when it’s time to eat them. Depending on the variety you received (first earlies, second earlies, main crop) you may have already harvested and enjoyed the fruits of your labour. However if yours are still in the ground, it’s time to prepare for harvest.
Unlike many other fruits and vegetables, potatoes don’t need to ripen; they can be eaten at any point in their development. Harvest timing is linked to a number of factors such as tuber size (more time growing means bigger tubers), ability to store (if harvested before the skins have time to harden, they won’t store very long), ground conditions (very wet soil and hard frost can cause your potatoes to rot), and pests (keeping them in the soil too long can result in more pest damage).
Before harvesting it’s important to remember that if potatoes have gone green you will need to throw them out. The green colour comes from exposure to light and the formation of chlorophyll and can be an indicator of a harmful toxin called solanine. If there is just a bit of green you can cut it off and eat the remaining white part.
First and second “earlies” do not store especially well. For this reason I tend to lift one plant at a time and scoff the contents for dinner that night. This method means the plants that remain in the ground will continue to grow their bounty. However it also means that you can’t get a second crop in quickly so it’s worth considering that when you decide your harvest method. First and second early potatoes can store for a few weeks if you keep them in a bucket of damp (not sodden) soil somewhere cool and shady.
For maincrop potatoes a good rule of thumb is: once the foliage dies back, cut it down (mark where the potatoes are planted so you can find them later) and leave them in the soil for two weeks to allow the skins to firm up. This means they can store for much longer which is especially important if you have a large crop. If you just have a few plants and extended storage isn’t needed, you can lift them prior to the two weeks. Remember to have a good dig around as spuds often find their way into unexpected places. Be as careful as you can or you’re apt to put your garden fork straight through the best potato of the lot. One excellent argument for planting potatoes in containers is the ease of dumping it straight out and not having to worry about missing any.
If you are lifting your maincrop potatoes to take to a Dandelion harvest festival, you can dig them up the day of the event or in advance. If in advance just keep them somewhere cool and dark until they’re needed and they will be a delicious addition to the festivities.
Once you have finished your harvest, remember that same soil shouldn’t be used for potatoes for two or three years in order to avoid the buildup of pests and diseases.
By Emily Hairstans
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