There’s a wrong way and a right way to harvest potatoes. The wrong way would be blindly digging into a potato mound with a shovel. The right way includes carefully reaching underneath the potato plant and gently pulling out each potato by hand.
Master Gardener Ed Buyarski explained during a recent edition of Gardentalk that he handles fresh potatoes very gently during harvest.
“Don’t toss them, dump them, drop them into a bucket because they can crack very easily,” Buyarski said. “We don’t want to crack them because that can let bacteria or fungi into the potatoes to start them rotting.”
Buyarski suggests immediately eating any potatoes that may be scabby or damaged. Save the good potatoes for long-term storage.
First, he recommends against thoroughly washing or scrubbing those potatoes. That could damage the thin and fragile potato skin.
Some gardeners avoid washing off any of the dirt. But Buyarski says he usually does a very light washing and then places them in trays or crates in a cool place so the skins can thicken and toughen up as they dry.
He will then cover them with blankets, cardboard or newspapers. If light hits the potatoes while they are curing, then they’ll turn green and bitter, and become mildly poisonous.
What if your potato plants are already turning yellow and dying back, but you’re still not ready to harvest?
Buyarski suggests cutting back the vines and covering the potato mound with a tarp or heavy plastic. The thin and fragile potato skins will toughen and cure in dry soil. Potatoes will begin to rot if they are left in damp soil.