HARVESTING & STORING POTATOES
Harvesting potatoes is simple, just dig them up when you need them! Maincrop potatoes will store longer if you follow the rules we describe below.
HOW TO HARVEST EARLY POTATOES
Early potatoes store for about 5 days in a cool, dry and dark position so harvest them when needed. They really do taste best when harvested and eaten on the same day. Begin to harvest early potatoes two to three months after planting them in the ground. Generally this is a week or two after the flowers appear. For the first harvest, check out if the potatoes are ready by using a trowel and then gently burrowing around the roots of a strongly growing plant with your hands. You should be able to feel the size of the largest potatoes and decide if harvest can begin.
All potatoes are best harvested when the soil is not too damp. Dig a fork into the ground about 30cm / 12in away from the potato plant stem and angle the fork slightly towards the stem as you dig in. You are trying to get near the potatoes growing under the ground but not so near that you pierce them with your fork. Gently lever the soil up which should expose some of the potatoes. Burrow around the soil with your hands and harvest the potatoes. Clean up new new potatoes of excess soil and let them dry.
HOW TO HARVEST MAINCROP POTATOES
Maincrop potatoes are ready for harvest when the foliage starts to turn yellow. Much depends on the weather conditions throughout the growing season so gently rummage in the soil to feel the size of the potatoes before harvesting the lot. Harvesting maincrop potatoes is similar to harvesting earlies with just a few differences. First, it is important to harvest maincrop potatoes on a sunny day. When the potatoes have been dug up they should have excess soil shaken off and then left to dry on the soil surface in the sun for a couple of hours. This will harden up the skin of the potatoes and help them to store much longer.
Because maincrop potatoes keep for a relatively long period of time, they can be harvested in large batches and eaten from storage when required.
HOW TO STORE POTATOES
The ideal storage container for maincrop potatoes will exclude the light but at the same time allow moisture to escape. Hessian sacks are probably the best the container for storing potatoes but they do cost. If you can't find anyone who stocks them try clicking The Gardener's Shop.
Almost as good are large paper bags, the dull type not the glossy ones. And best of all you can get them free! Take a trip down to your local fish and chip shop and they'll gladly give them away - they have several bags delivered each week and just throw the bags away.
Only store potatoes in good condition. If you store some damaged potatoes, they will all become infected. Any damaged ones can be eaten over the next week or so.
Store in cool conditions but never in the fridge or freezer. If the potatoes are stored too cool they will turn sweet and not store for very long. The best temperatures for storing potatoes are in the range 5°C to 8°C / 40°F to 45°F. For the average gardener these "ideal" temperatures are hard to achieve. The basic rule is don't let the temperature drop much below 4°C / 40°F and keep them as cool as you can above that temperature. A garden shed in the shade is often a good place.
Exclude the light. If light gets to potatoes in storage they will turn green and begin to sprout. This "greening" can often be reversed by placing the potatoes in complete dark for a week or two. The storage bags will exclude some of the light but also store them in a dark position such as a garden shed or a cool cellar.
Inspect the stored potatoes regularly. The best method is to turn the bags out once every month and examine each of the potatoes. Discard any which show signs of deteriorating. Again, in practice the average gardener may not have time to do this. At the very least, open the bags once a month and smell the potatoes immediately. Rotting or diseased potatoes can easily be detected by their odour. Remove a few potatoes from the top of the bag and inspect those below.