Gardening Articles: Care :: Plant Care Techniques
by National Gardening Association Editors
After all your work of planting and caring for your potato plants, here's how to get the most from your harvest.
The earliest or "new" potatoes of the season are a treat not to be missed. They're small, round, smooth and delicious. When you think you have early potatoes big enough to eat, reach into your early hills, feel for the best-sized spuds and ease them out. The plants keep right on growing and producing more.
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 best tool for digging is a 5- or 6-pronged fork. Dig down under a hill, then lift up. The dirt falls between the prongs, and you're left with a forkful of potatoes. There's less bending this way, too.
In the North, harvest the main storage crop in September, when the days are getting cool and frost isn't far off. That's when the plant tops are dying and sending the last of the vines' energy underground to the tubers.
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.
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.
Be gentle. Try not to rough up or bump the potatoes. Each bruise lowers the storage quality and appearance of the tuber.