To harvest potatoes, you’ll need a shovel or a spading fork. If you’re harvesting for supper, drive your fork into the soil at the outside edges of the plant. Carefully lift the plant and remove the potatoes you need. Set the plant back in place and water thoroughly.
After deciding when to dig up potatoes for winter storage, dig up a “test” hill for maturity. The skins of mature potatoes are thick and firmly attached to the flesh. If the skins are thin and rub off easily, your potatoes are still to ‘new’ and should be left in the ground for a few more days. As you dig, be careful not to scrape, bruise or cut the tubers. Damaged tubers will rot during storage and should be used as soon as possible.
After harvesting, potatoes must be cured. Let them sit in temperatures of 45 to 60 F for about two weeks. This will give the skins time to harden and minor injuries to seal. Store your cured potatoes at about 40 F in a dark place.
Too much light will turn them green. Potatoes are a member of the nightshade family, and that green coloration is evidence of solanine production, a glycoalkaloid poison. Solanine poisoning is primarily displayed by gastrointestinal and neurological disorders. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, cardiac dysrhythmia, nightmare, headache and dizziness. In more severe cases, hallucinations, loss of sensation, paralysis, fever, jaundice, dilated pupils, hypothermia and death have been reported.
After you decide when to dig up potatoes, get the whole family involved. Although it is labor intensive when it comes to digging, the harvesting is pretty easy. Equipped with a small basket, even the smallest child can share in this fun and rewarding experience.