When And How To Properly Dig Potatoes?

Harvesting vegetables, fruits, berries is quite simple. We can see whether the coloring of, say, a fruit is typical or not, we can pick it (because there are many more of them on the tree, and we will not damage the plant in any way) and taste it, finding out whether it is ready or not. With root crops, and potatoes in particular, things are different: in order to dig out potatoes correctly and so that in the end the tubers were mature, tasty, large, and, most importantly, were kept as long as possible, until the next harvest, you need to know a number of nuances and peculiarities of this culture. Let's try to understand how, when and what is better to dig potatoes. © Sara


  • When to dig potatoes?
  • Do I need to remove the haulm when I harvest my potatoes?
  • Digging Potatoes
  • Drying and Storing Potatoes

When to Dig Potatoes?

Every gardener should firmly understand that the process of final ripening, including potato tubers, is affected by a huge number of different factors. These range from the current season, the state of the soil, the degree of infestation by pests and diseases and last but not least the varieties, which also dictate the rules.

If you planted potatoes in May (or at the end of April if the soil was well warmed and ready to handle it) you can dig them out around the middle of August, right up to the end of August and the beginning of September. This is the usual ripening time for the vast majority of all different varieties of potatoes.

Naturally, do not forget, and better yet when planting the tubers of potatoes in the soil in spring, write down the varieties of what maturity you plant: early, medium or late, because this will also determine the start period of your harvest. Don't assume that there will be a slight difference. So if you say early potatoes are early potatoes, they can be dug up a whole month earlier than a medium-ripening variety and a month and a half before a late variety.

Anyways, look at your property: If you are a conscientious farmer and you weeded in time, your potatoes got the maximum amount of nutrition from the soil without any competitors present and you can dig them out at least a couple of weeks early. But if the weeds are so many that even the potato foliage can not be seen, maybe your potatoes were starving and need more time to finally "mature".

How to check?

Anyway, you can not guess, and check whether it's time to dig out the potatoes, for which you should choose an easier bush but closer to the edge and dig it out completely, examine the tubers, the skin on them. If tubers are easily separated, and their skin is dense, it is quite possible to proceed and to dig out the whole potato.

Important! This applies to beginners seeking to grow potatoes on their own plot for the first time and on their own. Often inexperience and ignorance, they start to dig out the potatoes right in the middle of summer. The yield is good, but tubers have a thin skin, they boil quickly, ready for immediate cooking, but they will not store for a long time.

Look at the tops

If you do not want to dig bushes, then look at the potato heads: whether it is yellowed, not dead. If it happens at the end of August, the potato itself prompts you that it is time to remove it from the soil, or else the frost will knock and the potato will become sweet.

It happens so that part of the potato foliage is laid and the time in the courtyard to match, and part of it is greenish-green, as if it is June or something like that, not late August. Why does this happen? It happens in gardeners who were too lazy to sort out the early and medium-late varieties and plant them in different plots.

In this case, you need to dig up the potato harvest that has died and began to dry out, and young tops try not to touch, of course, if you dig with a pitchfork or shovel. With a power tiller all is more complicated: bypass these late bushes is not necessary, you have to sacrifice them and it will be a lesson for the future.

Phytophthora, which is not at all in time

By the way, by the time of harvesting potatoes can be seen and the following picture: some bushes are already dead, haulm on them clearly dead, and part of "finish eating" phytophthora. It has been noticed that such bushes can have tubers affected by this dangerous fungal infection. And imagine what will happen if you dig out such bushes and put affected potato tubers for storage together with healthy ones? Right, nothing good: all or the most part of a crop can perish.

Thus such potato bushes I advise to dig out in the first turn, and the tubers removed from soil, either to destroy, or to put for food to cattle, to eat them I would not advise.

When and how to properly dig potatoes?
Potato bush digging. © Arthur McWerter

Do I need to remove the haulm when harvesting potatoes?

The debate about removing haulm before harvesting potatoes is still going on.

Second problem is phytophthora: when you cut all potato foliage entirely, you distribute the infection all over the property, and when you dig out the tubers, you also get fungus in the soil - the infection needs it. The haulm may be harmful, but in farms where potatoes are harvested by machines, hard haulm can damage tubers.

I advise to do in this way at home: first of all we remove and destroy all living plants, which are still being eaten by phytophthora. Neither the tubers nor the haulm of such plants are needed. Next, mow all the haulm to a height of 12-15 cm, not lower. So you and the bushes will see and give a push to the tubers: say, they soon need to be removed from the soil, and therefore should be stocked with a strong "crust". After a week, you can start harvesting potatoes. By the way, healthy haulm, devoid of phytophthora - is a good compost.

Copy potatoes

First, choose a suitable day. It is fine if it is hot and windy, if it has not rained for a couple of days before and the weather forecasters do not promise it for the same period of time. Next, we carry out control digging: potato rind is hard, the tubers are easily separated - then everything is ready.

Step three - estimate the likely amount of harvest to know how many people, bags, wheelbarrows, bins or crates for storage and other equipment is needed. How to find out? A simple way: we dig five potato bushes, choose every single tuber from each, divided by five, we get the average yield per bush, pretty accurate.

And then multiply it by the number of bushes on the site, again we have an approximate, but close to the real yield from the site. If something is not enough for transportation or storage of this vegetable, then urgently buy more. Remember: the sooner you dig potatoes, while the weather is good, dry them and send to the storehouse, the better.

When going to harvest potatoes, I advise you to take four batches of bags, a fork (if the soil is heavy for digging) and a shovel (if it will dig you easily). You can also take a power tiller, but we'll tell you about it later. Not everyone has it and not everyone knows how to operate it, but progress is inexorable and we must not miss this moment of harvesting. It's simple, I advise immediately after digging the potatoes to divide it into four batches. The first batch will be the giant tubers, the largest, which can either be eaten or left for seed. In the second bag we put the potatoes of normal size, up to 80-90 grams, in the third - the tubers which are even smaller (40-50 grams, no more), and at last, in the fourth - all trifles, cut, punctured by forks, damaged tubers which will go either for food at once or for a cattle feed.

When and how to properly dig potatoes?
Harvesting of potatoes. © Christina Ricchiuti

Potato digging tool

Shovel. It is a reliable tool, but it is advisable to have several of them, because the handles break in the process. I would not advise to take an all-metal shovel, it is better to take one with slots in the body, they will be enriched with soil and it will be easier to dig.

Disadvantages of shovels is that it often spoils the tubers of potatoes - cuts, leaves cuts, but the choice is up to you, which depends on the soil (personally, I shovel in clay could not dig a couple of hours).

Forks. Fork too desirable to have a pair. Take a pitchfork with four or five tines, no more, so it is easier to reduce the risk of damaging potato tubers to a minimum. Be careful with the pitchfork, especially when digging it into the soil, you can easily pierce a rubber boot, so here I would advise to wear canvas boots, they will be more durable. In principle, digging with a pitchfork is not different from digging with a shovel (although for me personally digging with a pitchfork is easier, but that's for everyone).

When digging potatoes, stand so that the sun looks into the back, so you can see what and where you dig. Be sure to dress thoroughly, so that all parts of the body are covered from the sun, a panama with margins on the head, and the persistent scent of spray against mosquitoes and gadflies on the surface of the clothes. As for footwear, boots are ideal (they may be hard to wear, but it will be very difficult to injure your foot, by accident). Behind you should go a few people, lagging behind on a pair of holes no more and with gloves on, they should pick potatoes and sort it into bags.

Cultivator. This is from the field of modern technology, it is designed for those who have free money and abilities to manage such equipment. The cultivator, in my opinion, is relevant if not less than one hectare of land is planted with potatoes. A smaller area can be slowly dug out by three people. When working with a cultivator it is desirable to remove all potato foliage, leaving nothing on the plot. But the first thing to do is to dig out with a pitchfork or shovel the bushes infected with phytophthora, and at the same time - and tubers with it. Then you need to wait a few days so that the grass settled down and did not interfere with the work.

Weather is the same - warm and dry for a couple of days. The choice of potatoes: here, rather, it is necessary to do all together and at the end of each row, which will pass the cultivator or in general - after cleaning the entire plot.

To work with motocultivator when digging potatoes was a pleasure, but not turned out to be a flour, it is necessary that all rows were flat and the cultivator did not have to "walk" in different directions. Further, the distance between the rows is also desirable to be the same. Naturally, when digging potatoes for the cultivator it is necessary to use attachments designed for digging potatoes and no other. It is necessary to adjust the speed of rotation of nodes, so they choose tubers, but do not throw them with force to the surface.

In my own experience, I can say that when digging potatoes motokultivatorom should not dig row by row, it is better to dig potatoes through one row, otherwise one wheel will always move on the ploughed land, and another - on tamped, so it is harder to work.

What is good about the power tiller: it usually allows you to choose all the tubers of potatoes from the soil, rarely spoils them, facilitates the work and incomparably significantly speeds it up. A couple of people following the cultivator can also go and sort the tubers or do it later when the work of the power tiller is complete, as we mentioned above.

When and how to properly dig potatoes?
Hoeing potatoes with a pitchfork. © Steve

Drying and storing potatoes

After all the potatoes have been harvested, they must be dried before being put into storage. To do this you should choose a sunny and preferably windy day, but you should not put the potatoes in an open and well-lit place: they can accumulate solanine poison, although a little. The best option is a shed on the south side.

Potatoes can be dried in fractions, since it takes only 4-6 hours to dry. Each fraction, after drying in one layer, with a turnover to another barrel after two hours, should be placed in the cellar. The usual standard cellar provides for a depth of 2-3 meters, four walls whitewashed with lime and renewed every year with whitewash, and bins-essentially large wooden boxes or standard apple wood boxes, necessarily new and dry. When the potatoes are overpotted, they must not be allowed to bump against each other or fall from a height of more than 10 cm, this can lead to negative consequences, causing anything up to rot.

It is necessary to sort each batch, as we did in the field. It is desirable to have access to all fractions of potatoes, to check what condition they are in.

For normal maintenance of potatoes in storage, you need to keep the temperature at plus 2-3 degrees of heat and humidity at 85-90%.

After putting all potatoes in storage, pay attention to the field: all haulm and weeds, if they are disease-free (and weeds without seeds), can be collected and put into a compost pile. If you notice signs of fungal diseases, it is better to burn the haulm.

That's all there is to tell about when and how to dig potatoes.

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