Want to know how easy it is to harvest potatoes planted in straw? See the steps in action plus how to cure and keep potatoes for longer term storage.
July and August are always an exciting time in our gardens, isn't it?
There are lots of things to harvest including the first of the tomatoes and peppers, continuing to harvest carrots, cabbage, and broccoli shoots - and pulling up the potato plants to discover this year's yield.
And after sharing about how easy planting potatoes with straw is I'm excited to share with you how fun they are to harvest!
I'm showing the steps to harvesting as well as curing and storage tips, which is important if you want to be eating your potatoes throughout the next months without them rotting.
Sadly, some of the harvested potatoes already had rotting areas on them and so I'm sharing what I found out about the cause and what we can do to prevent it in the future.
How To Harvest Potatoes Planted In Straw
1. When most of the potato tops have yellowed and died down, it's time to harvest
The potatoes being harvested here are the variety 'Red Norland' which is an early-to-mid season thinner skinned potato.
I planted the potatoes using the modified straw planting for slugs, and you can see it worked really well. (The tiny holes in the leaves are from flea beetles - I battle them every year with sticky traps, but otherwise don't really worry about it.)
TIP: I probably should've waited a bit longer to harvest these - if you wait until the tops are mostly brown, the potatoes will be tougher and better for storage.
The tops are usually mostly dead at this point in a normal summer for me, but our weather has been on the cool side and I knew it had been long enough. Plus, I was too impatient!
Pull back the straw to reveal the potatoes.
When you pull back the straw used to hill up the potato plants, you will see something like this photo above - isn't it fun?
I LOVE harvesting potatoes, it's like a treasure hunt!
2. Remove the tubers from the soil
Move from plant to plant that look ready to harvest, using a garden fork to loosen the soil and picking the potatoes to add to buckets or a wheelbarrow. Any plants that are still pretty green, just make sure the straw is still firmly around them.
TIP: Instead of a shovel, use a garden fork to gently pry under the tubers and loosen them from the soil. You'll get less cuts in the potatoes.
As you can see, starting the seed potato deeper in the ground and waiting to hill up with straw produced more tubers underground than when planted shallowly and covered with straw from the beginning (which is how I started in this method - doing this combo of both soil and straw has resulted in a bigger harvest).
It was just as easy to plant, care for, and harvest, and having slightly dirtier potatoes is a small price to pay for plants that don't get eaten by slugs as they're trying to grow!
At this time I harvested the early to mid season potatoes and left a few later season russet potato plants that were still flowering that I'll leave another 3-4 weeks.
3. Separate the potatoes and cure
At this point, you'll need to separate out the potatoes into three groups:
- The potatoes nicked with the digging tool or with minimal animal damage.
- The potatoes with heavy scab, green spots, or really misshapen.
- The best looking potatoes with intact skins.
GROUP 1: Wash and eat the potatoes from the first group right away, since they will be the first to spoil in storage. Just cut out any areas of damage and use as normal.
GROUP 2: The potatoes in the second group can be cured along with the third group, but they should be put into a separate box or basket to be eaten soon after the first group.
TIP: Again, cut off all damaged or green areas before eating. For heavy scab, I just peel the potatoes and use them for soups or mashed potatoes.
GROUP 3: Cure the third group with the most care, as these will be your potatoes that will store the longest.
TIP: Red potatoes are usually the shortest lived in storage, so even in the third group you should eat the reds first.
How to Cure Potatoes
- Clean the potatoes after digging. Brush off as much dirt as you can with garden gloves or a soft brush. A bit of water can be use for truly dirty tubers, but leave them to dry thoroughly for a few hours afterwards. Separate into your three groups.
- Lay out the potatoes. Place the potatoes from groups 2 & 3 into cardboard boxes, preferably in single layers. Leave in a dark area at 45-60 degrees for about 10 days.
- Sort again. Once cured, go through the sorting process again, discarding any that are soft and eating any that have cuts that didn't heal and storing the rest.
How do you store potatoes to last?
Many people have basements or cellars to keep potatoes in the needed cool, dark place with lows between 40-45 degrees.
What do you do if you don't have an area like this?
Here's a simple method I came up with and it works great!
I can keep potatoes for months like this in the garage and they are insulated from any extreme lows in our area (we have pretty mild winters, though, with just some mornings dipping into the 20s).
What about losses to disease and bugs?
I did have a LOT of potatoes in this harvest that I couldn't use because they were rotten or so deeply covered with scab that bugs had gotten inside.
It was definitely more than my normal losses, which I'm wondering if it had to do with our above-average cool and wet spring?
I also had a number of large potatoes that disintegrated into a white, gooey, really gross mess when I grabbed them from the soil, and I've NEVER had potatoes do that before.
They looked like regular potatoes on the outside - until I grabbed them. Yuck.
When I did a bit of research I found out that this is called bacterial soft rot caused by a bacteria called Erwinia, which can enter the potato through wounds, injuries, or even through natural openings in the skin.
According to this article, it was probably caused from our wetter than normal spring:
Since bacterial soft rot thrives in water, avoid heavy watering of newly planted potatoes. Don’t irrigate your beds until the plants have fully emerged. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers since heavy top growth will provide a moist canopy and watch for low spots where rainwater collects. Plants grown in these areas are almost guaranteed to suffer from soft rot disease.
To avoid this bacteria in the future, the suggestions are to:
- Rotate where potatoes are grown (I already do this)
- Clean up all debris early (I'll have to get on this earlier)
- Try not to water more than necessary (hard when it's coming from the sky!)
Hopefully a drier spring will also help!
I'd love to know if you plant your potatoes in straw and if you have any harvesting or other tips!
Make This Year's Garden A Success!