Potatoes are ready to harvest when the tops begin to die and the potato skin becomes firm. The skin is set when it does not scrape easily when rubbed with the thumb. Skin set can be speeded by cutting back the tops of the plants.
To harvest potatoes, dig under the plants with a shovel or spading fork. Keep the pitchfork 8 to 10 inches away from the plant to prevent cutting the potatoes. Raise the plants and shake away the soil.
Potatoes should be dug when the soil is moist. If it is too wet, the soil will stick to the potatoes. If too dry, dirt clods will bruise the potatoes.
Pull the potatoes from the vines and handle them carefully to prevent damage; damaged potatoes do not store well.
Allow the potatoes to dry; then store them in a cool spot with plenty of air movement. Most potato varieties are ready to dig 95 to 110 days after planting.
After the potatoes are dug, place the tops in the compost pile.
Storage of potatoes is also key to getting a bumper harvest. Storing your potatoes has a lot of good benefits.
Not only can you stop losing an amount of your harvest every year to disease, you can also hold them until a time when the markets are better.
Form a group with your neighbours to sell to large potato buyers. It is easier to sell 1000 bags than 100 bags. You will get a bigger profit.
Potatoes can be stored well in a charcoal cooler (3-4 months) . A charcoal cooler uses the principal of evaporative cooling to maintain a cool interior temperature for refrigeration and food preservation. The device is constructed from an open timber frame with charcoal filled sides, which is kept continually moist. As warm, dry air flows through the moist charcoal, water is evaporated into the air and it is cooled.
The cooler is a room with charcoal-laden walls. It has a wooden frame, which supports the walls and roof. The frame is covered with wire mesh separated by about 10 cm with the interior being filled with charcoal. The charcoal is on all four sides, filled in the space and leaving a gap of 15 cm to 20 cm to the roof.
This space is left open to allow air circulation. The charcoal remains moist, and as warm dry air passes through, the water on the charcoal evaporates and cools the air. This keeps the room very cool.
This cooler provides a low-cost way to preserve the produce using readily available materials.
Make sure the bags do not touch the walls when storing potatoes.