How to Pick Potatoes at Harvest Time

Person holding freshly picked potatoes

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Knowing how and when to harvest potatoes from your garden can be a tricky proposition. After all, the part of the plant you're anticipating baking, boiling or mashing is underground, covered most likely with soil and maybe straw (or whatever else you use to hill your potatoes with) as well. Do you know when and how to pick potatoes for the best harvest possible? 

Luckily, there are a couple of very simple ways to tell when it is the ideal time to harvest your potatoes. Depending on whether you want "new" potatoes or potatoes that are good for storing, there are a couple of things you will want to look for.

How to Pick Potatoes

If you are looking to harvest tender new potatoes to be consumed right away (not for storing) then you want to keep an eye out for the blooms. Once the plants start to bloom, you can start gently digging for new potatoes. These should be washed and cooked immediately, as they do not store well at all.

If you are planning on harvesting potatoes and storing them for a while, wait until the tops of the plants start to yellow and die back. Then gently dig around the perimeter of the plant and dig up the tubers.

If you are planning on storing them, don't wash them! Let them sit out in a cool place for a few days to cure, then gently rub off any dirt and store in a cool, dark place.

More Tips on Harvesting and Storing Potatoes

Here are a few tips for how to pick and store potatoes:

  • If the soil has been generally moist during the majority of the season, dig up the entire plant and harvest all of the baby potatoes. Put the plants back into the ground. They will survive the interruption and go on to generate more potatoes. Just dig and put the plants back in the ground quickly; they should not stay out long in the sun.
  • To dig out potatoes, use a five- or six-pronged fork. First, dig down under a hill and then lift it up. 
  • Mature potatoes can keep well for several months. Clean the surfaces by wiping away dirt, but do not wash the potatoes. Leave them for two weeks in a dark location that's between 45 °F and 60 °F. After two weeks, check on the potatoes. Do they appear to be withered? If so, throw them away. The rest of the potatoes can be stored in a dark area that stays 35 F to 40 F.
  • If you store potatoes in the refrigerator lower than 50 F, it can trigger the starch to convert into sugar. That gives the potatoes a sweet taste and they can discolor upon cooking. Take the potatoes out of the refrigerator before cooking to lower the discoloration. 
  • Keep apples away from stored potatoes as they can cause potatoes to sprout.