Gardener Scott's tips for potato harvesting are exactly what you need if you're not quite sure if your potatoes are ready. Harvesting at the right time can make a big difference with this staple crop, both in terms of the quality and size of your spuds.
If you've been learning how to grow potatoes and now want tips for the next step – the harvest – Gardener Scott's wealth of experience in vegetable gardening will help you get better results.
1. Harvest at the end of the season
In a recent YouTube video (opens in new tab) on his channel, Gardener Scott praises the benefits of harvesting as close to the end of the potato season as possible. How do you know when the end is? Simple – whenever your first hard freeze is forecast for.
Scott explains that for him, the season for harvesting potatoes 'is coming to an end – I've already had my first frost and first freeze. And that's a time of year where typically we're looking to harvest potatoes. The plant can actually handle a frost, but it can't handle a freeze.'
You might be tempted to harvest your potatoes earlier, but there's a reason for waiting. Scott says that 'if you harvest early, just after flowering, you're gonna get some very small potatoes. But if you wait until the very end of the season like I am, you're likely to get the biggest potatoes possible.'
- Looking for some of the best vegetables to grow in raised beds? Our guide has plenty of ideas.
2. Speed up the process by cutting down the plants
You can speed up your harvest by cutting down the potato plants above ground as soon as they begin dying. If you do this before the frosts arrive, all you're doing is hastening the process – just like a freeze would do. So, when your potato leaves turn yellow, cut them all down – 'they're not completely dead, but there's no reason to keep them going,' Scott says.
Once the plants are dead, 'they're not sending any more energy which means those tubers will not get any bigger, and these will be easy to harvest.'
- Our guide to the best companion plants for potatoes will help you get the most from your crops.
3. Start the curing process in the ground
Curing potatoes in the ground has two clear benefits, according to Scott. One is that by leaving those potatoes in the ground, you help to protect the tuber and give it longer storage.
The other benefit of leaving your potatoes in the ground longer is that if you don't have much pantry storage, you can just harvest them as and when you need them. 'They'll stay good until the ground begins to freeze', reassures Scott.
To get the most benefit of curing in the ground, stop watering a week or two before you are likely to harvest – you will harvest potatoes that are partly cured, which 'makes the harvesting process easier on the tuber', and is less likely to damage it.
4. Take care when harvesting from a bed
Finally, Scott advises taking extra care when harvesting your potatoes from a raised garden bed rather than a bag. With a bag, it's very simple – you just tip it over and find all your tubers.
With harvesting from a bed, Scott urges gardeners to start at the edge – otherwise, you're more likely to poke through the tubers with your garden fork. 'If I start at the edge and just pry up the soil, I'm less likely to damage the potatoes', he says.
The other difference with harvesting from a bed is that because it's deeper than a bag, you may miss some potatoes the first time you go through the soil. Scott explains how he comes back and does a second turnover to find any tubers that weren't found the first time. 'It takes a couple of times going through the bed to get all of the potatoes,' he says.
Anna is a keen urban gardener, with David Austin roses and Japanese acers among her favourite plants. She moved into the world of interiors from academic research in the field of literature and urban space a couple of years ago. She's always been interested in how people make houses into homes, and how our concepts of what's stylish change over time.
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