Homegrown potatoes tell you when to harvest them

Knowing when to harvest homegrown potatoes and how to handle them after harvest helps gardeners end up with the maximum amount of potatoes possible to store for those cold winter months.

Homegrown potatoes tell you when to harvest them

Potatoes are definitely one of America’s favorite vegetables. Did you know that each year we eat about 125 pounds of potatoes per person? Potatoes are a staple food and many home gardeners plant potatoes to store them for the fall and winter months. Knowing how to take care of your homegrown potatoes is important so that they store well.

Michigan State University Extension has these tips for winter storage of homegrown potatoes:

  • Toughen up potatoes for storage before harvest by not watering them much after they flower.
  • Let the potato plants and the weather tell you when to harvest them. Wait until the tops of the vines have completely died before you begin harvesting. When the vines are dead, it is a sure sign the potatoes have finished growing and are ready to be harvested.

Potatoes are tubers, and you want your plant to store as much of that flavorful starch as possible.

  • Dig up a test hill to see how mature the potatoes are. The skins of mature potatoes are thick and firmly attached to the flesh. If the skins are thin and rub off easily, your potatoes are still too new and should be left in the ground for a few more days.
  • Don’t leave the potatoes that you have dug in the sun for long after they have been dug up from your garden, otherwise your potatoes may turn green. Green potatoes have a bitter taste and if enough is eaten can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Small spots can be trimmed off, but if there is significant greening, throw the potato out.
  • Potatoes can tolerate light frost, but when the first hard frost is expected, it’s time to get out the shovels and start digging potatoes. An interesting place you might not be aware of is the potato museum in Washington, D. C. that contains lots of history, information and artifacts relating to potatoes including antique harvesting tools.
  • As you dig, be careful not to scrape, bruise or cut the potatoes. Damaged potatoes will rot during storage and should be used as soon as possible.
  • After harvesting, potatoes must be cured. Let them sit in temperatures of 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks. This will give the skins time to harden and minor injuries to seal.
  • After the potatoes have been dug, brush the soil off. Do not wash potatoes until you’re ready to use them. Washing can easily reduce the storage life and encourage mold.
  • Store potatoes in a cool, dark area after harvesting. Too much light will turn them green.

Sometimes before harvesting some potatoes become exposed to the sun because they are just barely underground and not covered with soil. Keep soil over the potatoes to prevent sunlight from turning them green. If you want new potatoes, which are small, immature potatoes about 1 to 2 inches in size, harvest them just before their vines die. Remember though that the more baby potatoes you dig, the fewer full-sized ones you will have for later in the season.

After you decide when to dig up potatoes, get the whole family involved. Equipped with a small basket, even the smallest child can share in this fun and rewarding experience.

To learn even more about potatoes, go to MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh website. This site has a wide variety of fact sheets that will help you use, store and preserve fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. You will also find information on flowers and ornamentals.