I love harvesting potatoes. Of all the vegetables we grow in our garden, hands down I love to harvest potatoes the most. Why? It’s like a treasure hunt every time. Unlike other root vegetables that typically just have one tuber, potatoes have multiple tubers. I just love the excitement and anticipation of pulling up a potato plant to see what we’ll find underneath. Little A always squeals with delight and claps her hands when we pull up a potato plant. She too loves the treasure hunt of finding all those beautiful potato gems in the soil underneath.
There are several ways to grow potatoes: large bags, deep container, hill method and just planting in the ground. I tried growing potatoes with the deep container method at our old house with less garden space and didn’t get a very big harvest. This year with a 7,000 square foot garden we have ample space to grow potatoes in the ground! If you’re trying to decide which method is best for you, here’s a great article from Little Mountain Haven comparing these four different methods of growing potatoes and which methods produced the most potatoes.
When growing potatoes it is extremely important to use disease free seed potatoes. Remember hearing about the 1840’s Irish Potato Famine in history class? It was devastating to that region and is still a prevalent issue for gardeners and farmers world wide today. You can read more about identifying and dealing with blight in this article. In past years I just used any potato from my pantry that started sprouting because I didn’t know about blight issues. Then my friend who is an organic farmer in the area told me about the issues a lot of people in the region were having with potato blight, . Once in your soil, blight is hard to get rid of and will continue to effect future crops. That is why it is extremely important to use only certified disease free potato seeds (if you can’t find certified diseases free potatoes at a local store, you can buy them here online)
This year we planted over 20 potato plants. We had two types of disease free seed potatoes from a garden shop in town.We grew a red potato and yellow potato variety. I wasn’t too sure how our potato growing would do this year because we have hard clay about a food down under our topsoil.
We planted our potatoes with the traditional hill method in a long row. I cut the seed potato into small pieces so there was an “eye” or little sprout on each piece. If there were two “eyes” close together I left them on the same piece instead of cutting them into really tiny pieces.
Then I dug a trench down the middle of the garden bed and placed one small piece of seed potato every two feet. Each piece of seed potato was covered with a couple inches of garden soil. After a few weeks, foliage started peeking up through the soil. Here you can see that the seed potato piece planted had two “eyes” on it so two sprouts of green foliage are coming up in one hill.
I carefully mounded up more soil around the foliage as it grew to form hills. In addition to using soil to make the hills, we also added a thick layer of straw. When it was harvest time, I pulled the straw back and saw little red and yellow skins sticking up through the soil and was so thrilled to see they grew quite well!
One thing I found quite fascinating about growing potatoes in an area with hard clay soil is that instead of the potatoes growing just in the area under the plant, they were sending out reeeeeaaaallllyyyy long skinny sprouts and growing potatoes well over a foot away from the plant! Pretty fascinating how a plant will adapt to growing in an area with hard clay soil present.
Once the foliage of the potatoes starts to die off, they’re ready for harvesting. I like to wait until the foliage is all wilted and brown. This process is usually helped along by a few light frosts in late August and early September. Around here with such a short growing season it is also important to make sure you harvest potatoes before the ground freezes.
Some folks harvest their potatoes with a pitch fork or shovel. I guess if you were growing a ton of really large russet potatoes I could see that might be easier. I prefer to harvest potatoes by pulling up the plant, shaking off the soil and using my hands to pick out the potatoes. There’s just something so soul filling about having your hands in the soil. It brought a smile to my face and squeals of excitement from Little A each time I unearthed another potato and added it to the harvest bucket.
Once the harvest bucket was full, I emptied it into one of our old red Radio Flyer wagons. We scored our biggest wagon for free at a yardsale earlier this summer because it had a tiny patch of rust on the inside. We have a fleet of old red Radio Flyer wagons that work wonders for hauling things back and forth from the garden! I filled the wagon up with potatoes and hauled it back to the house. I parked it on the covered back porch to protect it from rain and let the skins dry and firm up for about a week.
Potatoes do best when stored in a dark area in 45-50 degree temperatures. It is important to keep potatoes out of sunlight since that is what turns them green. If any of our potatoes ever have any green on them, I simply peel or cut that area off. Over the years I’ve heard that the green part of the potato can make you sick if eaten in large quantities since it contains a toxin called Solanine.
Initially we planned to store our potatoes in the crawl space under the house since we don’t have a root cellar (that’s a project for another year!) We were going to put our potatoes in a large plastic tub with a tight fitting lid and small holes drilled in it for some air flow and put it in the crawlspace. We knew if we stored the potatoes in an open container the mice would probably nibble on them. We got so busy with harvesting the rest of our garden before the first deep frost that I never got around to putting the potatoes into the storage tub.
Instead the potatoes are still piled up in the red wagon and parked in a corner of the shop. We threw an old blanket over them to keep them free of sawdust since my husband uses the shop to make wood toys we sell in our Etsy shop. This spot has worked out quite well for us so we’re just going to leave them there. We also have onions and winter squash in some other red wagons in the shop so it has become our temporary “root cellar” for now! If you’re looking for more tips on properly storing potatoes, here’s a great article from Grow a Good Life.
How do you grow, harvest and store your potatoes? Any tips to share?