Growing Potatoes Part 4: Harvesting and Storing Potatoes

 

 

In this post I will go over some details on when and how to harvest potatoes, as well as what I have learned about storage. Also see my other posts in this same series: Part 1, Getting Started; Part 2, Choosing Seed Potatoes, Preparation; and Part 3, Planting and Growing Potatoes.

After a couple of months of preparing, planting, watering, and tending to my plants, all along wondering what’s happening under ground, I find myself getting giddy in the anticipation for a well deserved, tasty reward. The work load has definitely been tolerable, so much so that each year I have found myself wishing to expand my designated garden area to allow for more potato rows. It really is quite simple; when all is said and done, it seemed I did little more than stick the seed potatoes in the ground, cover with dirt, cover some more, water, and wait. Then comes time to dig and eat! I just love sticking my pitch fork in the dirt to discover what might be hiding underneath! What will happen when I turn the soil over? There could be nothing but balls of packed soil and little rocks. But most of the time, out roll firm spuds of different sizes and colors; sometimes yellow, sometimes red, or just plain gray or brown; it all depends on the variety I planted, of course. My kids yell, “There’s one! Wait, there’s more!” What fun, what a miracle! Food, yummy and healthy, right down there in the dirt! I get a kick out of that every time!

Time frame from planting to harvest; when are they ready?

Depending on the variety planted, you are generally looking at anywhere from 2-4 months from planting to harvest. If you wish, you can harvest baby potatoes as soon as 2-3 weeks after flowering has finished, perfect as a delectable side dish for a delicious dinner. These tiny new potatoes are sweet and tender as the sugar has not yet been converted into starch. Gently sneak your hands into the dirt to search for the larger ones, leaving the small ones to grow for a while longer. Or leave the whole crop to finish growing before you harvest.

When to harvest, and what does “dying back” mean?

The potatoes are done growing when you see the plants starting to “die back.” If you are planning to use them right away, they can be dug at any time when this process starts, or even before if size is not important. If you wish to store them, they should stay in the ground a while longer, as described below under “Hardening off.”

But first, what exactly does “dying back” mean? Well, when the tubers are done growing, the potato plants will start to yellow, then become more and more brown and withered until they completely die back. As scary as it looks when you don’t expect it, it is actually a much anticipated sign I look for to know that the potatoes have finished growing! This process can easily be confused with disease, and the first year I grew potatoes I thought something was terribly wrong, and sought advice on how to heal my plants to no avail. The foliage was dying, and there was nothing I could do to hinder it, nor was there any need to stop the process! I have since learned not to fret about this normal and wonderful stage!

To help you know what to expect during this natural process, I have included a few pictures of what my plants looked like when they started dying back. There are a lot of weeds around in these pictures, but the potato plants in the first picture are the two light green stems in the middle with some brown leaves, sprawling on the ground:


On occasion, potato plants will produce fruits during the later flowering stage. These fruits look like green cherry tomatoes but will eventually turn white. This is the true potato fruit, which contains seeds. The fruit is toxic and not edible! The seeds can potentially be used to grow new potato plants, although this is not normally done as potatoes from these plants will not be true to the original tubers. In the following pictures as the plants continue to die back, you can see these fruits still hanging on the plants, now white in color.

Yikes! Pretty horrific looking for someone who doesn’t expect this to happen!
The plants are now dead as can be, an excellent sign!

When the potatoes are done growing, I like to leave mine in-ground and harvest as needed rather than dig the entire crop right away. This should not be done if it rains a lot or if the dirt drains poorly because of the risk of rot or sprouting. My potatoes have kept very well in-ground, but I do harvest them within a few weeks of maturing and certainly well before winter sets in since I can expect the ground in my zone to freeze. In milder climates, where the soil is workable all year, some people keep them in-ground all winter.

Hardening off:

If you prefer to store your taters, you should wait 2-4 weeks after the plants have died back to harvest to toughen them up a bit. When you see that the plants have mostly died back, stop watering altogether to prevent rot or re-sprouting your crop. Since the potatoes are now finished growing there is no longer any need for water. Leaving them in-ground for a couple of weeks extra allows the tubers to develop a thicker, stronger skin, which is needed for safe storage to protect them from rot or disease. If you have a very late crop, you can kick-start the process to harden them off before the plants die back by cutting down the stems and foliage and stop watering.

How to harvest:

I prefer to use a pitch fork to harvest my potatoes. After trying a shovel and a cultivating tool first, seemingly slicing and piercing more potatoes than not, I ended up settling on my good ol’ pitch fork. I found that as long as I started a ways away from the plants and worked myself closer, I was able to dig them easily and safely, and piercing some only on occasion. Damaged spuds can still be used, but they won’t store well. I dig a foot or so away from the plant, and being that the pitch fork is a curved tool, I try to dig straight down and not on an angle. Then I push the handle down to lift and turn the soil, moving closer and closer until I have dug up the entire plant, taking care to harvest every last little one to prevent re-sprouting the next spring.

See how the potatoes are connected to the plant in the root area? They are very easy to tear off, and often come loose by themselves when you dig around them.

Sometimes you might be able to pull the plant out of the ground with the potatoes still attached.

After digging, if you are going to use them within a couple of days, just brush off the worst of the soil and let them dry a bit. If you live in a hot climate, do not leave them in the sun as excessive heat could cause them to cook. I typically dig only what’s needed for dinner, just brush off the excess soil, and bring them right inside to prepare. It is so much fun!

Pick the ones you find, then continue to dig around in the soil and search for more. Pick every last one, even the tiny ones; otherwise they will grow into new plants (and that might not fit with your plans for next season). This plant actually did come from a stray potato that had accidentally been left after harvesting last year, and produced quite nicely. Nice accident!

Preparations for Storage:

So far I have always dug and used my potatoes as needed, and long-term storage is not something I have personally tried yet. However, in studying and researching this process, this is what I have found out about it:

If you want to store your potatoes, harden them off in-ground first, as described above. After digging, let them cure for several days to two weeks by letting them dry on newspaper or dry ground in a dark space, such as the garage, basement, etc. This hardens the skin further for better storage. Make sure to keep the spuds away from sunlight, and do not allow rain or any water to reach them. Do NOT wash them if they are to be stored. Excess soil can be gently brushed or rubbed off, but make sure not to damage or rub off any of the skin. Damaged potatoes should not be stored, but used within a few days, although minor cuts and bruises will heal during the curing period.

Here are some of the beautiful red skin potatoes that I harvested.


Some were a bit damaged in the process, but I always use those within a few days, so that’s not a problem.

In this picture, the last of my potatoes have been harvested, and my garden is now ready for tilling before winter.

How to store potatoes:

Potatoes should be stored in a cool, but not cold, dry, dark environment, ideally around 45-50 degrees F  (7-10 degrees C). Do not refrigerate them as they will turn sweet and change consistency, though this can be reverted by bringing them into warmer temperatures for a day or two. Potatoes do not tolerate frost.

Potatoes can be stored in bins, baskets, cardboard boxes, etc., or even in paper sacks or mesh bags. They do need good ventilation, so the container should be well perforated. Never store in air-tight containers. It is best not to pack them too tight, but keep some air flow around them to prevent rotting. Make sure they are kept in a very dark area, or cover the bins with newspaper or cardboard to keep all light out, to prevent them from turning green. Don’t store potatoes together with onions as each vegetable produces gasses that will cause both of them to spoil. Potatoes in optimum conditions will store for several months, even up to half a year or more.

I remember the potato cellar in my grandmother’s old house; I was never actually inside the cellar itself, but I remember the black, scary hole in the kitchen floor when the hatch was opened, and the tiny ladder the grown-ups would climb to get potatoes when needed. I remember my grandmother warily climbing down into the cellar with a shiver, hurrying back up again and sometimes telling of the giant spiders living there, apparently waiting for their next victim. I’m glad I only had to experience it second-hand! Hopefully all of you have pretty, happy places to store your taters!

If you have any tips or comments, please leave a comment below!

About Terese

115 Responses to “Growing Potatoes Part 4: Harvesting and Storing Potatoes”

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  1. Eleanor Bell says:

    Thank you for this information, 1st year growing spuds and I thought they had all died! I am very relieved and look forward to the digging up process. A very informative site.

    • Terese says:

      I’m glad to hear you found my page helpful! I hope you’ll have fun digging and will find lots of potatoes under your plants!

  2. Alice says:

    Last year I grew fingerlings and yukon golds on one end of my large garden plot. My roommate swore up and down he got all of the little ones out at the end of the season, but this last spring I found myself wading through potato plants in every corner of the garden before I had a chance to plant a single one myself! Since they were growing willy-nilly underneath all of my other plants I haven’t done the big harvest yet and all traces of their foliage are long gone. Any chance you have tips on how to locate potatoes without the plant? I’ll sieve every inch of dirt to get them if I have to, but I’d sure rather do it a simpler way if I can. Also, great article, and I love the pictures.

    • Terese says:

      A few surprises for you this past spring, sounds like! Haha! It seems to happen to me every year. Well, as far as locating them at this point, I’m not sure there is much you can do other than dig here and there where you think they may have been. I would use a pitch fork and dig down every foot or so throughout the areas you think they were located. Once the plants are gone, there isn’t much else to do, I don’t think (other than using harvesting machinery, which most of us don’t own.) And you’ll probably get a few more surprises next year; if so, you could mark the areas with garden sticks of various kinds, just to make it easier to find them after-the-fact. That’s what I did w/ my strays, just stuck down markers and looked for those when I wanted to dig for them. Hope you find some! Let me know!

  3. Bonnie says:

    Thank you for all the useful info. The pictures were great! Have looked at several websites for harvesting info and yours was the “BEST”. Waiting is the hardest part. I’m like a 5 yr old, I wanna see what’s inside the package! I’ve had a couple spuds reveal themselves to me so I hope there are lots and lots hidden in the dirt. Thanks again for sharing your progress.

    • Terese says:

      Thanks so much! Yes, waiting is hard, but so worth it in the end. I hope you’ll have a great harvest, and lots of fun digging!

  4. Zororai says:

    I enjoyed reading this. Your writing is very informative and you make it all sound very simple and straight forward. Great illustration too with the pictures. Thank you.

  5. Devildoc68 says:

    This is a great site and you have all the information for sure. My wife and I have planted Yukon Golds for the first time at doing spuds. We live at 7000 ft. so have them in large containers due to a multitude of gophers. Very much appreciate your page…am looking forward to harvest time….Thanks !!!

  6. Cathy says:

    Thanks for your feedback and photos. It’s really helpful. I live in Australia in a fairly temperate climate and I have tried to store my potatoes under the house under hessian so it is dark but they are still going soft and sprouting. i will follow your advice next year!

  7. carolyn says:

    This spring was my first time planting potatoes, as well as the first time in a new garden and new growing zone for me-8b. I planted them on March 3, and around May 10 the vines started dying back without ever having flowered. I assumed they had a disease or pest problem, but left them in the ground until today (May 28) I went to dig up the plants and discovered potatoes. Any ideas why they never bloomed?

    • Terese says:

      I believe potato plants in warmer climates, such as zone 8, do not necessarily bloom at all. I’m not sure why, but I believe this is a fairly common phenomenon for warmer zones and it does not pose a problem since the blooms are not necessary for potato buds to form. I’m glad to hear you got taters out of it, that’s the important part. It’s always fun to know the why’s around these things, though. :)

      • PATRICIA DAWSON says:

        I am also in zone 8/9 mine did not bloom and I thought they were withered and dead and as I was about to throw in the towel/ throw the dirt out What wud,,,,,,I had potatoes..happy growing

  8. emily says:

    Hi thanks for the info…very informative! This is the first time I planted potatoes. I did not wait long enough I guess because there were tons of tiny tiny potatoes that would have grown. I did not wait for the plants to die. I read that after the blooms die you harvest 2 weeks after. I did get alot of potatoes!! Very exciting! I did read that you pick off the big ones and then replant the plant to let the others continue to grow. Don’t know about all that but I did and well see!! Thanks again for the tips. I book marked this page for next year!!
    Emily

    • Terese says:

      Sounds like you had great success overall, then!! 😀 If you don’t mind, do come back to let me know how it worked out to replant the plants; did you replant the entire plant with the little ones still attached? I’ve never tried it that way before; in fact, I’ve always just dug up the whole plant and used whatever was there and that’s the end of the plant. I have read that you can gently slip your hands down underneath the plant while it’s still growing and harvest the larger ones, and leave the rest to grow, but I have not heard of actually digging up the whole thing. I wonder if the plant can handle that? I am now very curious to know what will happen! Fill me in if you can! Thanks!

  9. Ginger says:

    This is our first year to grow red potatoes. We have just harvested a first batch, but plants still look great and are continuing to grow. I remember my grandmother letting us dig the new (red) potatoes and she’d cook them that night. Can red potatoes be eaten right after digging? Do they need to be stored any differently from other potatoes. I appreciate your website and the great information you are sharing!

    • Terese says:

      Great memories, I’m sure! I don’t think red potatoes require any different care than other potatoes do; at least not that I’ve ever read or heard about. And yes, you can definitely cook them up and eat them immediately after digging, no problem. It’s when you want to store them that you want to toughen them up. I hope you’ll enjoy your harvest!

  10. Patti says:

    Thanks for the informative article and pictures… that’s exactly what my little spud plants have started to look like. I was worried they died in the heat wave!

  11. Angel says:

    Thank you for the info. You talked about the tators getting damaged in the harvesting process. Luckily my husband and I wont need to worry about that. We took old tires and double stack them and took some zip ties and secured them together. And we filled them with dirt to use as planters. Last year we had tomatoes in them. But we recently moved and our landlord didn’t have a problem with us planting our garden in the ground. So this season we decided to grow some tators. The plants are slowly starting to dye back. And when they are finished we are gonna take our tarps and put them on the ground by the tires and just kick the the tires over. Can’t wait, because i have a feeling we are gonna have more tators than we know what to do with. :)

  12. Kerry Lincoln says:

    Iv just harvested my first crop of potatoes and couldnt understand why they were so small. Im glad I read your blog so I know exactly what to do from now on. =) if you have any other tips regarding other vegetables I would love to read them

  13. Wendy Hise says:

    Thank you so much for this information and pictures. I have one plant that has died back, now I am just patiently waiting for the others. This is my first year with potatoes and can’t wait to see how I did!

    Thanks again! :)

  14. Marsha says:

    Hi, I have potatoes that grew in my compost. ( old hay,grass,sticks,Food scrapes). Some are very small like some in your pictures and some are green in places, Are they good to eat? Thank you

    • Terese says:

      Hey, small or not, free potatoes from the compost sounds like a great deal to me! :) They should be just fine, although I would cut off the green parts. They turn green when exposed to light, and the green is not good for you. If you cut it off, you should be just fine. If most of the potato is very green, I would throw the whole thing away.

  15. Leila Simonsen says:

    Well, here it is October 6 & my Yukon Golds, (planted from stored potatoes which had lo-o-ong sprouts when first discovered) have never died back, even still have blossoms. We have had a couple of frosty nights, so I decided i’d better get them dug. But they sure have had no chance to harden offThere are several dozen nice sized ones, dozens of golf-ball sized ones, which my neighbor & I are using for stew, & the inevitable damaged ones, which will go for soup, & scalloped potatoes, but what do I do with the bigger ones, which I’ d like to store?

    • Terese says:

      Well, if they are already dug, there isn’t much you can do other than store them for as long as you can in a dark, cool, dry place. Very gently brush off the worst of the soil, then leave the rest so you don’t damage the skins. Follow the above suggestions otherwise, to prepare them for storage. They may not last as long as if they had hardened in the ground, but they should last a little while at least. Just go check on them now and again and find a use for them if they don’t seem to be doing well.
      Just so you know, unless October means the ground will freeze in your area, or the soil will be soaking wet all the time from heavy and frequent rains, you can safely leave them in the ground for a while even if there is frost in the air. In my area we have rain from time to time, but not ALL the time, and the ground can still be dug for a while yet even if we have frosty nights. The main goal is to dig them before the ground becomes to hard to dig, or before they rot (or sprout) due to water logged soil. :)

  16. natalie says:

    Its great to read all the comments, its always good to have new info as this is my first time growing anything. i planted my potatoes from old ones that had sprouted cause i hadn’t used them. They’ve grown really well but the flowers fell off during windy weather few weeks ago, I was hoping you would know how long after flowering they start to die back. My plants are still green and healthy.
    Thank you

    • Terese says:

      Good for you for getting started with growing your own food! Learning little by little as you go, the results can be so rewarding! I can’t remember how long it took for my plants to die back after flowering, but it was quite a while. Seems like the flowering itself took a month or more, and then the plants gradually started yellowing and turning brown. I think it can vary by your area and by plant, but flowering is a fairly lengthy process, if the plants flower at all. Some don’t, especially in warmer climates. The plants still need time to develop, of course.
      If you start feeling antsy, I’d say go ahead and dig up a plant and see what’s happening underneath; if you want to store them for a longer period of time, then you’ll need to allow the plants to die back fully and toughen up a bit before digging, but if you’re using them right away, then you can probably dig as you need them anytime you want to at this point. If they are still tiny, then wait a while longer.

      • natalie says:

        Thanks for replying so quickly. I’ll just have to stop acting like a 5 year old, try to be patient and remember that they still growing while they’re leafy and i could have lovely big potatoes. 😉

        • Terese says:

          You’re very welcome! :) Oh, I don’t think you’re acting like a baby at all, it’s just very exciting and fun to see what might be hiding beneath the soil! 😀 I like to dig them little by little as we need them rather than storing them, anyway.

  17. Jeff says:

    Nice site. I love growing potatoes, harvesting, and of course cooking them up. Such a miracle food when considering how easy they are to grow and how great they are for your health with the skins on. Also such variety that you`ll never get bored growing them.

  18. GIFT KAPOTELA says:

    Yeah it is a good job u did.
    Sorry let me ask you
    If you dont have a room but you have a piece of land only can’t we dig a big HOLE so that we can store there? on the conditions you stated

    • Terese says:

      That’s an interesting idea, for sure! Same concept as a potato cellar, I guess. I don’t know if it would work the same way, but seems like it would be OK as long as the potatoes are kept away from frost and water drainage. I know many people will leave potatoes in the ground where they grow, digging as needed, until the ground starts to freeze. So my guess is that it would be OK. You’ll have to use your own judgement or research a bit.

  19. BJ says:

    Have waited many, many years to grow my own potatoes. I do not even know what they are namled. However I am enjoying the plants, did so get a lot out of your site, great help. Looks like I need to add a pitch fork to my garden tools. I like to shop for tools anyway, ha. Thank you so much for taking the time to help us along. Will keep this site in my bookmarks.

  20. tom says:

    How long can you leave them in the ground

    • Terese says:

      Until the ground freezes, or until you’re in a time period of a lot of rain; you don’t want them to rot or sprout.

  21. Ayesha says:

    I wish I had found this site before I planted……I think I may not have planted my seed potato deep enough. I think I got most of them about 3 inches deep and they are probably to close together. Should I wait until the plant starts to grow and maybe remove some? Thanks!

    • Terese says:

      There’s no need for concern on planting to shallow; just shove more soil on top! :) If they are too close together, they may not produce as well, so removing some might be an option if you really think they’re too close together. I’m not sure when the best time to do this would be, but probably pretty early on, I would think.

  22. Michelle S says:

    Wow…so very informative. This is our first year growing potatoes, and I found this site to be invaluable, in terms of how, when and where (how far to dig) to harvest the potatoes. Our potatoes were planted in early April (we’re in zone 6b) and the plants have recently begun to flower. I think I’m as excited as our kids to have some home grown potatoes to cook and eat! We are looking forward to digging up some potatoes when they begin to die back. Many thanks for your expertise and for the wealth of information you have provided!

    • Terese says:

      I’m glad I could help! Thanks for commenting, it always inspires me to see that people find my posts helpful. :)

  23. Candice m says:

    This is my first year growing potatoes. I chose red. Funny story, I asked the man @ the city seed store where are ya’lls potatoe seeds (I expected little seeds like tomato,cukes ect) when I saw they were just potatoes with what my Mamaw called “eyes” I felt like a fool! But the man was nice and told me how to plant them, along with alittle research they were growing and flowering. I never got any fruit that I no of ans seems like something got the flowers(maybe a hornworm) I will be showing this to my dad to. He tried telling me it was time to dig them up (I think he was just being eager to see) well I dug up 2 plants and they were the size of a cotton ball! He told me they just weren’t going to grow, but I told him I was gonna keep the faith! They just needed more time the plant needed to be dead. I sent him a pic today of 3 I dug up that were just yellow stems with brown leafs they were the size of tennis balls and some smaller. Good tip on leaving the smaller ones attached. I can’t wait to see the rest when they are done!

    • Terese says:

      Haha! Too funny! And good for you for sticking it out to get potatoes larger than bite-size. 😉 And if something got the flowers, that’s why you didn’t get any fruit. The fruit is a result of the flowering. But that’s not big deal anyway, since it’s the taters you want, not the fruits. But the flowers are pretty, so that part is always nice.

  24. Melissa says:

    Like many others who have posted this is my first year growing my own potatoes. My grandfather had a huge garden growing everything but he passed on a few years ago and his extensive knowledge went with him. i planted my seed potatoes very shallow and they have at least foot tall plants right now. I planted just before the fourth of July so I figure that I have a ways to go to maturity. does that sound right? If I want the small potatoes that my grandfather called “new” potatoes would they perhaps be ready by now to dig a few? I may try one plant just to see. I’ve counted over thirty plants so far in yukon gold and red that I bought. Also, a note I bought seed potatoes that have very, very long roots (off the clearance rack) at our store which I think are a great solution or is this wrong?

    • Terese says:

      I would wait a bit longer before digging. Not sure if your plants are flowering yet? I would leave them until the flowers start to die back. You can take them at any time, but the earlier, the smaller they will be. If you dig too early, you won’t really get anything at all, so there’s not much point in that. They say anywhere from 50-75 days for early potatoes (new potatoes,) depending on variety. Also, while they’re growing, start hilling dirt up along the stem, covering leaves and all. The tubers will grow along the stem, and will be damaged from the sun if not covered with enough dirt.

  25. Sue Marriott says:

    I found reading through everyone’s comments and your replies very interesting. I’ve been trying to grow some spuds but unfortunately the ones I grew (I can’t recall the variety) didn’t and aren’t flowering. The plants look very healthy though so I’ve left them as I note you said some varieties don’t always flower in the warm weather and here in the wilds of Shropshire, U.K. just lately we’ve had some very unusually hot weather. I look forward to visiting your site again and reading comments from everybody. Like someone else commented, it definitely is the best site I’ve found being informative and tells you exactly what you wanted to read. Many thanks again. Sue M

  26. Elise Amiot says:

    What a great site! The photos help a lot.
    I have been growing potatoes for many years, in zone 4. I’ve narrowed down my varieties to Yukon gold (a great keeper) and Norland, a heavy producing red potato. I use the nicest potatoes from the previous harvest to plant, and I have a three year rotation in my garden. (there’s always a few potato plants among my onions!).
    At the beginning of the harvest, when I only need a few potatoes, and the plant is still green, I harvest the largest potatoes and replant the plant with a bunch of tiny potatoes still clinging to the plant. I then water the plant and they do keep growing, getting to be about half the size of a full grown potato.
    For the past few years none of my potato plants have flowered. It’s a mystery. And I’ve also had fewer and fewer potato beetles. ZERO potato beetles for the past two years! (touch wood!)
    Happy gardening!

    • Terese says:

      That’s interesting that you can replant the plant along with the small potatoes, I didn’t know you could do that! Why why not, as long as the roots are intact.

  27. Ronald Corfield says:

    Hi Teresa, The posts on your site make very interesting reading. In my past work ethic I had contact with the farming industry and was always told not to plant potatoes in the same ground year on year. What are your thoughts on this question? This is my second year growing in the same spot and I have harvested a couple of plants. The first few taters were softish and tended to go into the water when cooked, was this due to not “hardening off” ?
    Also this time round I did a much better job on preparing the ground by digging deeper and removing stones and also digging in compost and chicken manure. Would you agree this helps ? , what are your golden rules re feeding the ground?. Everything is dying off now above ground so I plan to leave them in ground for as long as possible.
    Regards, Ron

    • If you will permit me to respond — definitely rotate your crops! We have number of raised beds– very raised (about three high), and beans always follow potatoes, as they will replace nitrogen in the ground. I generally will follow beans with either peppers or tomatoes. Root crops of any kind (carrots, beets, potatoes, etc.) never go in the same ground until at least three years have passed. This not only keeps the soil from being depleted, but keeps the pest problem to a minimum.

      The second year potatoes were probably suffering from a fungus which affected the plant — another reason to rotate crops. A fungus which attacks potatoes won’t touch beans, etc.

      And yes, adding composted supplements to the soil is a must. We do rescue work with animals so I have plenty of manure to compost and most of my veggies grow in almost pure aged compost.

      Do not leave potatoes in the ground once the rains start. Although you cannot freeze plain potatoes, you can prepare tons of mashed potatoes, cool them a bit, shove them in zippered baggies and freeze them to enjoy during the winter. They will look really funny as they defrost, but once fully defrosted and heated and stirred well, you cannot tell them from freshly mashed.

    • Terese says:

      Ron, I apologize for not giving you an answer on these things, I somehow missed it. But thanks to Helen who stepped in to help! I do agree with her. Rotating is very important, and not hardening off will not cause them to be soft when freshly harvested So there was probably something else wrong with them like Helen suggested. Fertilizing in the beginning of the season is definitely recommended, although don’t overdo it for tomatoes and carrots. Feeding with organic matter such as manure or compost is great! To my understanding, you should go careful on manure for potatoes since it is high in nitrogen, which you want to go a bit lower on.

  28. billyboy says:

    good info ..thanx teresa…. anytime i have grown tatties ,i dig them up give them to the wife to cook but they always turned to mush,till someone told me to let them dry- off as he called it before cooking them but for how long ?

    • Terese says:

      Hmmm… turning to mush while cooking sounds like over-cooking to me. It often helps to put them in cold water in the pot, then let them warm up as the water heats up on the stove. This will prevent the outer parts to finish cooking before the insides are done. Mushy potatoes is also more common with the russet types, the more starchy potatoes.

  29. Jim Prokes says:

    What a nice, detailed tutorial on growing potatoes. Thank you.
    This year I preceded my ‘raised bed ‘tater garden’ with a cover crop of inoculated clover, planted in the very early spring (zone 9b) – turned in 3 weeks before planting – started with 10 inch trench and continuously buried the stems to up to about 8 inches as they grew above ground. The potatoes grew en-mass near the bottom of the trench, and the heaped earth made it perfect for harvesting – a stellar, healthy crop.

  30. Peter Krause says:

    Hi. Terrific selection of photos and explanation.
    We have the “cheery” seeds on our potato plant.
    Have you ever grown from them?
    Peter and Kathy
    Weston ACT
    Australia

  31. Sharon says:

    Hi, Great reading your tips. I planted lots of potatoes last year and had a massive harvest but never got round to digging all of them up, Will these regrow into healthy plants. Or should I dig them all up now and start again fresh

    • Terese says:

      Sounds like you had a great season! If you leave them in ground, they will grow into new plants, yes. But whether they will be healthy or not, is hard to say. It is not actually recommended that you allow them to resprout like that as there can be a lot of diseases lurking, even if the potatoes seem healthy. You are not even supposed to use a potato from your own garden at all for a new crop, for the same reason, but use certified seed potatoes. Well, I often have little “strays” that grow unintentionally, and so far mine have been healthy, but it is a chance to take. In addition, if you don’t dig at all, they will be way too close together and won’t have enough space. (Several eyes per potato, and lots of potatoes close to each other, with the potential of a large amount of plants in one spot, competing. I think that your best bet is to dig them, and you could still miss a little one here and there, so there might be a surprise plant or two regardless.

  32. Wes says:

    So much great information here and I really appreciate the images. We were new to growing potatoes last year and failed to even harvest them at all.

    This time around I have high hopes for success and a nice little crop to expand on next season.

    Thank you for a great tutorial!

  33. Tina Grant says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for the great information and also pictures of different stages of your potato plants!
    I am growing potatoes in potato bags right now. I planted them on February 15th. I had beautiful green for fiage and now some of the leaves are turning yellow and brown and very mushy to the touch. Is this normal at this stage or is this late potato blight. Looking at your pictures I can’t tell if it’s a hard dead stem with hard (crispy)brown leaves or is it mushy. Please help!

    • Terese says:

      That’s really hard to know; I don’t think mushy is necessarily a problem. I think that dead plant material will be dry and crisp or mushy depending on whether it’s been in contact with water, and even if it’s been kept dry, there is still moisture in the stems if they aren’t fully dead and dried out yet. You can try to sneak your hand down under the plant and pull out one potato if you can, leaving the rest until you want to harvest all of it. Inspect that one potato and see if it appears healthy. Late blight happens on occasion, but it’s something that wipes through the entire geographic area and there isn’t much you can do to prevent it, and nothing at all to treat it. It is what it is at this point, but I’m thinking your plants are fine if you only go by the mushiness of the stems. I personally wouldn’t be too worried about that. :)

    • Jackie says:

      No fear, Tina Grant! I just grew 2 grow bags of potatoes, one red and one russet. They grew very nicely and then started to die back. It’s easy to think you did something wrong. That’s when you stop watering them and just let them do their thing. I don’t think you over watered them because the grow bags drain very nicely. I emptied both of my bags out yesterday and had a few dozen potatoes, some bigger than others. I’m keeping the teeny tiny ones in a brown paper bag with a few holes punched in so they will sprout and I can replant those. I live in Florida and I can grow year round.

      I prefer container growing over the bags actually, because I used those poly grocery bags and they disintegrate rather quickly. I suppose if you bought the official “grow bags” they might hold up better. I saw lots of information online about growing in 50 cent walmart reusable shopping bags, and I tried it, but I prefer the container.

      When growing in containers, just make sure it’s at least 20 to 25 inches deep. Plant the eyes about 6-8 inches apart. When leaves emerge, bury them again up to the tippy top of the leaves. Keep the soil moist, but not too wet. Let them grow a few more inches and bury the leaves again, and again, until you reach a few inches from the top. Then let them grow and flower. Like many have said, sometimes they don’t flower at all. But if you keep them moist and they have sun, they will be producing potatoes under there. After the leaves start to turn yellow, I hold back on the watering and let the plant die off. It sounds like you are in the dying off stage, so give it a few more weeks to turn dry and brown, and dig for your goodies :)

  34. Andre says:

    Have you ever tried planting them in old tires? Put the first tire down with soil and plant 3 to 4 seed potatoes… Depending on size of the tire. As the plant grows add another tire and cover the plant with more dirt. When you get to 3 tires tall let the plant grow. When you are ready to harvest just tip the tires over and you will find potatoes from the bottom up. You will find you yeild more this way. However may take a little longer to harvest.

  35. Caren jensen says:

    I just found out that my red potatoes have Michigan disease. After researching I thought it best to go ahead and harvest. So I dug up a couple plants today and some of them have the little white spots all around them. They wipe off very easy. My question is this. Are they still good ? and I watered this morning so they are wet how should I dry them ? Thank you in advance
    I found this site very useful for me as this is my first garden.

    • Terese says:

      I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about this disease, so I don’t know if they’re still good. I’m guessing they’re OK if the spots wipe off, but I couldn’t tell you for sure. If you want to store the potatoes and they’re wet, you can wipe them gently with an old towel or paper towel, then let them dry fully in a single layer outside but away from the elements, also with no sun exposure. Turn them over when you see that the top side is dry. I hope your taters will be good to eat still! You could contact a garden center and ask them, also regarding how to prevent this disease from attacking a future crop. But do plant your next crop in a different spot since the disease could still be in the soil. All the best to you!!

  36. Penny Muenscher says:

    Why do I get potatoes the size of my husbands shoe. They taste great but are do big!

    • Terese says:

      Wow! Must be you’re doing something right! That’s a good thing! If you don’t want them that big, you could harvest a little bit earlier, they’ll have a nice, soft, thin skin on them and so tender! But I would be thrilled with huge potatoes! 😀 Nice job!

  37. jenna says:

    can you plant potatoes like in your yard and after they flower mow the top offor do they need the top of the plant to continue growing underground?

    • Terese says:

      No, sorry, you need to let them grow. 😉 The thing is, they will grow potatoes from along the stem as the plant grows up. So if you cut it off, there won’t be anything to grow from. You also need to dig more dirt up along the stem as it grows, so you’ll end up with piles of dirt around them after a while.

  38. lisailene says:

    Hello:) so glad I found this sight… So informative! Thank you! I do have a couple questions: I live in Kansas and has been pretty rainy. My potatoes have been in the ground since March 11th. I planted the seed potatoes and then covered the ground around them with straw hoping to help with weeds.
    They were doing beautiful… But when I go out there now, the leaves have brown spots on them…from the pictures I have pulled up on the web, it does not look like blight, but I don’t know what else it could be. Any suggestions on that? And if so, how to treat? Also the leaves near the ground are yellowing…
    Also, after I have dug up the potatoes, do I need to let the ground rest before I plant anything else?
    Any answers/help would be appreciated… Thank you!

    • Terese says:

      I’m not sure what the spots and the yellowing might be, unless they’re simply dying off. The plants (not the potatoes) will die eventually, that’s normal, and in that process they will look really bad! There are also a ton of different diseases that can attack potato plants, but since I’m not a professional, only a hobby gardener, I simply don’t know. Not all diseases will affect the potatoes, though. Could you try to harvest them now? If you look up growing time for the variety you planted, that should give you an idea whether they’re finished growing. Most varieties take around 3 months, but it could be anywhere from 70-120 days. Another thing you can do is to take a picture, describe what’s going on, and post it on houzz. Gardenweb merged with houzz, and there’s a great gardening section there with lots of very knowledgeable people who will help you. http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/cornucop
      Lastly, I believe you can plant other crops again right away, but fertilize first, and avoid plants from the same family (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) to cut back on potential diseases.

      • Most mid-west universities have agricultural extensions where you can check regarding various diseases and what to do about them. Pest identification is another area where they are especially helpful. If you live in a rural community, you probably have a feed store available to you and they will know who can help if they can’t.

  39. Jose Garcia says:

    Thanks for the excellent coverage on potatoes. My first potato harvest is done. The plants have wilted. I was wondering how long I could leave the tubers in the ground. It’s Texas with summer about to hits us in all its glory. For the next 4 months we won’t go below 92F. The tubers are in plastic containers, which I’m eating first, and in a wooden raised bed.

    Thank you.

    • Terese says:

      Well, I’m not entirely sure, but from what I’ve gathered, they should be harvested before really hot weather sets in. So you probably need to dig them and try to find a cool area for storage. I’m glad you otherwise found the information helpful! Thanks for commenting!

  40. Vivian Foster says:

    Love reading your article and it was so informative. This is our second year of planting potatoes and I was worried there was no blooms on the plant but after reading your article and looking at the photo I’m now waiting patiently to harvest our potatoes.. Thank you again for your informative blog

  41. gary willett says:

    Terese, thanks for the valuable info…this is my first year…the package said harvest midseason…so I did! From just 12 small seed potatoes, I was thrilled to harvest about two gallons just today. Of course, seeming a bit psychic, as I was washing the dirt off…I remember thinking “I am likely violating some esoteric rule and should NOT be WASHING these at this time!” Don’t know why I didn’t search for your site before then, except, there are times when I am impulsive! I remember the storage under my aunt’s kitchen sink, and I remember when I was tasked with getting some tubers out, back in my youth (when dinosaurs roamed the earth…) I remember that they still had a little soil still on! Why do humans act against their instincts, I wonder? All philosophy aside, I am fully prepared to make a big potato salad, but will try storing them for a while…they will not last long, at any rate! Now that I know you’re here, I will take the make-up lessons of parts 1-3! Thanks, again, for your wisdom! Now I know! Since I live in north Texas, is it delusional to think I can get a second harvest this year from the little ones I left?

    • Terese says:

      I am sorry I missed your comment until now! I apologize for the late respond!
      Regarding your comment, oh, I know what you mean, I can be impulsive too and I just want to do what I’m doing, hoping it’s the right thing rather than making sure it IS the right thing! Haha! And I love your sense of humor!
      As far as whether you can get another harvest in, in your area, I would certainly think so; you could at least try and see what happens. They do like cool weather, of course so you could maybe plant one to experiment, and save the other ones for a while so you’ll have a fall harvest. I’m not sure how well they’ll grow in the heat of the summer in Texas, but if you don’t try, you won’t know. 😉 I’m in the midwest, so it’s not quite as hot here. Just one point to remember: it is not normally recommended to seed your own potatoes as they can carry disease, even if they look fine. You’re supposed to use certified seed potatoes from the store… Having said that, I have missed small ones that decided to seed themselves the following season, and they’ve been fine.

      • Terese says:

        OK, good to know for those of you in really hot climates: My husband watched a show on potatoes, I think it was regarding how to make potato chips, and they mentioned the fact that when it’s really hot out, potatoes can sometimes cook right in ground! So they were trying to harvest before the potatoes got cooked, in order to not lose their harvest… Wow! “Dinnertime, everyone! Here’s a pitchfork, go get yourself a baked potato! And grab some chives while you’re out there!”

        • Jim Lehman says:

          We live in Kansas and yes it does get hot. This year several weeks sporadically in the very high 90’s and several 100’s. I use a 16″ single bottom plow to get mine in, then a homemade hilling attachment to get them a extra few inches of soil on top after they have came up. For me this seems to alleviate the “cooking” in the ground problem. This year with the extra rainfall we have had the best crop ever. I have 12 rows, 50ft long and seem to be averaging about 80 lbs of extra large taters per row.
          Speaking of row, I stake the ends of the rows and sometimes in the center of the row, depending on how crooked I drive, then run string down the rows to make sure I know where the rows are. I will adjust the string and the stakes as the plants come up so I know where they are. I usually don’t finish digging till late September and by that time the stalks are long gone. Thanks for the good information I got from reading your posts.

  42. Debbie Smith says:

    Can the tiny New potatoes or red potatoes that are still clinging to the roots when I harvest the more mature potatoes be replanted? If yes, Do I just pull them off and put them back in the ground? Also, do I leave some of the rootage that they are attached to on the potatoes?
    Thanks for your help, Debbie Smith

    • Terese says:

      Very good questions!! Well, the answer to your first question is “yes” and “no”……. Yes, they can be pulled off and replanted and will grow their own, new roots and shoots from the little “eyes” / indentations in the skin. BUT: You are really not supposed to do that as your own potatoes can carry disease from the current growing season, even if they look healthy. Potatoes are notorious disease plants, so you should use certified seed potatoes, which are quite inexpensive. Even so, I often miss a tiny potato here and there during harvest, and those will grow into new plants the following season all on their own. I have harvested very nice potatoes from those “volunteers” potato plants, but it still is not recommended to plant them on purpose since they will be more susceptible to disease, which can be discouraging. It seems better to stick to certified seed potatoes. :) Hope that helps!

  43. Teresa says:

    first time growing potatoes so not sure what I’m doing however after just planting three potatoes in ground that had eyes I’ve had a great crop. Question is do I pull up the plants or if I leave them will I get another crop ??? Thanks

    • Terese says:

      Well, you only get one crop per plant, but if you harvested while it’s still working on that first crop, there may still be new ones coming. Especially if the plant is strong and vibrant. You just have to be very careful when harvesting so you don’t destroy the root system or the original seed potato, or the plant itself. The tubers themselves are not roots, so you definitely can gently remove them. If you do see / feel tiny ones still there, and the plant and roots are intact, you certainly could try to leave it alone and see if it makes it. If so, the tiny ones should continue to grow. :) Hope that helps!

  44. nancy says:

    Hi, I store my potatoes in a large enclosed vented bin in my husband’s shop. They are stored with peat moss. Living in MT they stay very cool in there. This spring was warm and my potatoes started growing in the bin and produced small potatoes that are edible size, but I’m not sure if there OK to eat being the mother plant never had sunshine? Does anyone know the answer? I have a 5 gal. bucket full . Any help well be appreciated. Thanks

    • Terese says:

      Interesting! I’ve never heard of that before, but I’m guessing they’re still edible? Maybe not as nutritious??? Anyone know the answer to this? Otherwise the gardenweb on houzz might be able to help.

      • Yes, they are edible. The only time to NOT eat a potato which is firm is when it has been exposed to sunlight long enough to turn green. If you cut all the green area out, the rest of the potato will still be good. Snopes has the best lay explanation I am aware of about green potatoes:

        “The potato, the ultimate comfort food in Western society, has a disturbing secret. This trustworthy old friend so often invited to our tables can, at times, slip us a little bit of poison.

        The potato — or, rather, green versions of it — contains a natural toxin called solanine. The greenish hue that should warn you away from such spuds is actually chlorophyll, but its presence indicates concentrations of solanine are present in the tuber.

        A glycoalkaloid poison found in species of the nightshade, solanine is a nerve toxin produced in the green part of the potato (the leaves, the stem, and any green spots on the skin). This bitter poisonous crystalline alkaloid is part of the plant’s defenses against insects, disease, and predators. Potato leaves and stems are naturally high in glycoalkaloids, so ingestion of these parts of the plant must be avoided at all costs.

        Solanine develops in potatoes when spuds are subjected to light or either very cold or warm temperatures. It interferes with the body’s ability to use a particular chemical that facilitates the transmission of impulses between cells. Ingested in large enough amounts, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and even paralysis of the central nervous system.

        However, unless you are deliberately seeking out green potatoes to eat, you are unlikely to ingest enough of the toxin to do harm.”
        Read more at http://www.snopes.com/food/ingredient/greenpotatoes.asp#MOzx12Cc39qc3Rjy.99

  45. cathy price says:

    Where was this blog before I panicked and pulled up some of my dead looking plants. I thought I did something very wrong. Your blog post was extremely helpful and taught me some things. I have one concern. My potatoes where planted for 3 months and look like it the potatoes where just coming in. I got baby potatoes, like fingerlings, but no large ones. The top of the plant started turning yellow and withering. What did I miss? Did I pull them up too soon?

    • Terese says:

      Haha, sounds like something I would do! But at least if the plants looked dead, you didn’t do much harm in pulling them. 😉
      As far as the small potatoes, it can be really hard to know. One issue could be excessive heat, or not enough water, or even a nutrition problem. If the plants are still quite green, you may want to let them be for a while longer before pulling them as they may still be growing. I highly recommend going on the garden web area on the web page “houzz” (the two of them merged), where you can share more information on the specifics of your garden so that they can help identify the problem, and they will ask more questions to be able to close in on the issue. There are a lot of variables.

  46. Paul W. says:

    Thanks for the excellent article and great pictures. I planted my All Blues on May third, and they are dying back nicely. I was indeed worried, since this is my first year growing potatoes. Fortunately, though tough winter up in Maine killed a lot of the potato beetles, so we caught a break there.
    Instead of hilling up the individual plants, I just mulched heavy with straw. We’ll see how it goes.
    I wanted to ask you one question: I have been walking quite a bit, in-between my 36″ rows, to scout for bugs (and slugs). Should I be concerned about the soil compacting?
    I really appreciate the good advice and will probably stop watering them now and harvest them all on Oct 1.
    (Other gardener friends were asking what the green spheres on the potato plant were. Apparently, even some
    potato growers had never seen them).

    • Terese says:

      You are getting great experience and knowledge already! Good for you! I would not worry about compacting the soil in between the rows, and you would naturally not be stepping directly on the hills where the plants are growing and tubers forming anyway. The only concern about compacting the soil between hills / rows would be if you were not finished hilling, since it would make the job much harder. Sounds like your plants are past that stage anyway, so you should be good. Thanks for your comment! :)

      • I also chose to use a heavy layer of straw around my growing plants this year and it worked beautifully. I had hilled in years past but took the lazy way out this year and had no problems at all — a little straw grass, but that pulls up easily and also keeps other weeds out.

        • Terese says:

          I have read about mulching with straw previously, but have never tried it. Maybe it’s time that I do. 😉 Sounds easy, and it can be tilled under to compost at the end of the season.

  47. Colleen says:

    In the early 1900’s, my mother-In-law grew up on a potato farm in North Dakota. Her father would store root vegetables in wooden barrels buried in the ground. Throughout the winter, they would uncap one barrel at a time and eat its contents before uncapping another.

    • Terese says:

      That’s Interesting! I’m sure it worked very well. Previous generations knew so much about how to live independently and grow their own food, and I think a lot of that has been lost for today’s younger generation. There is such value in listening and learning from our elders! Thank you for sharing!

  48. Terri Parks says:

    wow, thanks for writing this. I really enjoyed the photos and you answered a lot of questions for me.

  49. Becky says:

    Awesome article! My plants got pretty chewed up by bugs – possibly grasshoppers. They look pretty sad & are starting to die. I harvested some yesterday with great results, but I thought I was going to have to dig them all up because another article I read said they would rot if you left them in after the plants died. Glad to know how to harden them off before harvesting and not to worry about what the plants look like.
    Any suggestions for the bug problem for next year? I would like to keep my garden organic.
    Bless you!

    • Terese says:

      Good to know your potatoes were good, even if the plants looked sad! :) I have used Captain Jacks dead bug, which contains spinosad, with great results on different plants. It helps with bug problems, and is totally fine to use in an organic garden. I spray it on every 3 weeks on plants that are susceptible. Hopefully that will help. :) And God bless you as well!

  50. Debbie Jewell says:

    I don’t have anywhere in my house that is 45-50 degrees, except perhaps the refrigerator (which is where you say not to store them) Any suggestions where I could store my potatoes?

    • Terese says:

      Well, sometimes an ideal location cannot be found, so then you just have to do the best you can. They may not last you as long under less-than-ideal conditions, but if you at least can make them last a little while, then it’s better than nothing. I’m sorry I can’t offer you other options. If you have too many and you know they’ll spoil before you can use them all, maybe give some away to family and friends? I have done that a lot in the past when I’ve had more than I felt I could handle, of various vegetables, and that’s been fun to do.

      • You can freeze mashed potatoes quite easily in zippered bags — that solved a big problem for us.

        • Terese says:

          Yes, I’ve frozen mashed potatoes lots of times. Like Helen also commented in a different spot, they do seem awful and runny when you thaw them, before they’re actually hot. But as soon as properly heated they will be great!! You may even find yourself adding more liquid, even though they seemed so wet you thought they were a lost cause! The reason for it is that the starches, when that cold, cannot hold onto the liquid, but they will once they’re heated. Just a bit of info I myself find interesting. 😉 I did this for Thanksgiving last year and my SIL thought we had a disaster on our hands, while I had no worries at all. They were awesome in the end.

  51. Anna says:

    I have a question on storing the potatoes. My neighbor told me if I put the potatoes in a box with dirt it will keep them for at least 6 months. Have you ever heard of this?

    • Terese says:

      I think you could do that, but make sure the soil is completely dry if you do so they don’t start sprouting / growing. Otherwise it would be like planting them. :) And keep them cool still, if at all possible. Not ice cold, just cool.

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