For me, potatoes are one of the most fun crops to harvest. Digging them up reminds me of a treasure hunt – when you start rooting around the soil, you never know how many potatoes you’ll find and what size they’ll be.
Late Autumn is generally the time that most people begin lifting their maincrop potatoes. Depending on the weather, maincrops are generally ready between 18 to 22 weeks after planting and are the best type of potato crops for winter storage.
Let the Foliage Die-Off for Bigger Spuds
As a rule of thumb, potatoes can be harvested once flowering has finished. However, if you want decent size spuds, consider leaving them in the ground until the foliage has turned brown and the stems withered. Once the foliage dies off the potatoes won’t grow any bigger, so this is a good time to harvest.
Don’t Forget Some Varieties Don’t Flower!
And don’t forget to read the growing instructions that came with your spuds. Some varieties don’t flower which means a certain amount of guesswork is involved if you want to dig up potatoes before the plants have finished.
I like to check on potato progress by digging up a single plant to see what’s hiding under the soil. This will give you an idea of whether your potatoes are ready.
When digging potatoes, always use a fork. This reduces the number of potatoes you damage and stops you slicing straight through a handsome prizewinner. I used to do this loads, but now I gently loosen the soil with a fork, before scraping away with a trowel.
If you can find a nice, sunny day to harvest then all the better, as potatoes benefit from a few hours of drying out before storage. Lay them on the ground in a nice warm position, and then roughly clean the mud and soil off the skin. Store in paper or hessian sacks in a frost-free and dark place if possible. Under the worktop in my shed normally does the trick for me.
Over the winter, the potatoes may begin to shoot, but these can just be pulled off before cooking.
Can You Leave Potatoes in the Ground?
During lazy or busy years, I have left my potatoes in the soil into November. As long as the soil doesn’t become soggy or suffer a frost, then from my experience, the spuds are quite content. Don’t leave it too late before digging up though, the ground can get soggy very quickly once Winter sets in.