If you are thinking of starting a home garden, then one of the things you cannot miss out on having is potatoes. After all, these crops are not just delicious to cook when you have harvested them, but they are also relatively easy to grow and can be fun to harvest.
While many experienced farmers may know the right type of potatoes to grow and just when to harvest potatoes UK, this could prove to be difficult for beginners. In this article, we will discuss how to know when it is the right time to harvest your potatoes and how to store them.
How to Know When Potatoes Are Ready to Harvest
There are 3 main harvest seasons for potatoes, and they are separately known as the “Earlies”, “Second Earlies”, and the “Maincrop”. These names are derived from the differences in when to harvest the potatoes.
Before we dive into the details of knowing when to harvest potatoes, it is important to know why you are looking to plant these crops.
Considering how different types of potatoes have a variety of use, understanding the nature of use can be helpful when you are picking your crop of choice.
Potatoes that fit in the “Earlies” category include breeds like the Red Duke of York, Arran Pilot, and Lady Christl. They are typically planted around March and will be ready for harvest between 10 to 12 weeks after, which is around early summer. Potatoes in the earlies category are generally more tender to taste with a melt-in-your-mouth finish.
The best way to identify when to harvest early potatoes is to keep a close eye on the potato flowers. Early potatoes that are ready for harvest will see faded blooming flowers. Occasionally, the flowers may not bloom, but the buds have begun to fall. This is also a sign that your early potatoes are ready to be dug up.
Early potatoes or the “Earlies” are usually about the size of an egg or larger and will continue to grow for as long as you leave them in the ground. Unfortunately, early potatoes do not store well, so you may have to consume them as soon as you have dug them up.
Second Early Potatoes
Also known as the “Second Earlies”, these are the potatoes that will mature later than the “Earlies”. Second early potato cultivars such as Nicola, Jazzy, Kestrel, and Maris Peer are traditionally planted on the first day of spring in the UK – approximately in late March. The potatoes will be ready for harvest about 15 weeks after planting.
If you are unsure about finishing large harvests of early and second early potatoes, you may want to take advantage of the different harvest periods. By staggering the date of when to plant your second early potatoes, you’ll be able to enjoy your fruits of labour back to back without being overwhelmed by potatoes.
Like the “Earlies”, the tell-tale sign of when to harvest your second early potatoes is by looking out for the potato flowers. Once the buds begin to drop, or the bloomed flowers begin to fade, you will know that it is time to dig up your second early potatoes. They have a similar taste and texture to the first early potatoes but are larger in size.
In comparison with the “Earlies” and “Second Earlies”, maincrop potatoes are much larger in size and take longer to grow – approximately 20 weeks for the crop to mature. In the UK, maincrop potato breeds include the Purple Majesty, King Edward, Pink Fir Apple, and Cara. They are regularly planted at the same time as the second early potatoes.
Because maincrop potatoes are better for storage, many home harvesters would typically keep them for use in the winter or cook them as baked potatoes. The texture of maincrop potatoes is generally harder, making them better for storage. To store maincrop potatoes, be sure to leave them in a clean and dry area, or they may rot.
Unlike the former potatoes, the guide to understanding when to harvest maincrop potatoes requires more in-depth knowledge. Maincrop potatoes are typically ready to be dug up between August and September, which marks the end of summer. At this point, much of the potato plants will turn yellow, which is an indication of when to harvest maincrop potatoes.
The plants should then shrivel and become dry, leaving behind the shrivelled leaves and stems. You should then attend to the plant and raise it approximately 1 inch off the ground. With the tubers still in the ground, allow your potatoes to grow for another 2 to 3 weeks. This is a process that will help harden your potatoes for better storage.
How to Store Potatoes
On top of being easy to plant and care for, potatoes are also great for storing to be used later. Unfortunately, not all potatoes are ideal for storage, with earlies and second earlies being highly unsuitable due to their tender texture.
If you have some maincrop potatoes, however, you will be glad to know that they store well for the winter. The most important thing to storing maincrop potatoes is to ensure they are placed in a clean and dry area. Potatoes that are left in wet conditions are more vulnerable to rot.
A great way to dry your potatoes is to leave them in the sun for a day or two while turning them continuously. Never leave your potatoes out for too long, as your potatoes may turn green.
While this is a natural formation due to the chlorophyll in plants, the green colour in potatoes is an indication of glycoalkaloids toxins. They can be harmful to our bodies when consumed, so potatoes that have turned green are usually thrown away.
As you can see, knowing when to harvest potatoes in the UK is not all too difficult once you have gotten the hang of it.
Staggering the dates when you plant your potatoes should also ensure you are not overrun with potatoes during harvest season, and you will be able to enjoy your work of labour all year round.
You should also check out our article on how to grow potatoes.
Garden Doctor Tips
“Only harvest what you need at that time, that way the potatoes you leave in the ground will continue to grow!”
“Do a test dig to see if your potatoes are large enough for harvest, if not, give them another 2-3 weeks and they will be ready to go!”
“First earlies make great new potatoes for a spring salad. They will just melt in your mouth!”
“Have some fun and get the kids involved, potatoes are extremely easy to grow and harvesting is fun!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you harvest potatoes too early?
If you try and harvest your potatoes too early, they may end up very small and you may have missed out on a larger crop. Just do a simple test dig to see if your potatoes are ready to be lifted. If they are still too small, leave them in the ground for another few weeks where they will grow very quickly.
How long after potatoes flower are they ready?
A good sign of when your early and second early potatoes are ready to be lifted is immediately after the potato flower has faded. A simple test dig will help you discover if they are ready to go. Maincrop potatoes are ready towards the end of summer when the plant has begun to wilt and die.
How do you know when your potatoes are ready to harvest?
There are above-ground tell-tale signs to let you know how your potatoes are getting on. The first earlies and second earlies are ready to harvest once the flower has faded and buds have dropped. Main-crop potatoes are ready towards the end of the summer when the plant has wilted and begun to die back.
Hi, I’m Trev and I’ve been growing things since I can remember. When I was younger, I grew up on a farm, so I have always been around plants and animals. After studying horticulture at university, I decided to start my own nursery which I have run now for 25 years. In my spare time, I run this website – which is a resource for people who want to learn more about their gardens.