No matter which part of the world you inhabit or which culture you come from, you probably find potatoes in your meal regularly. This delicious vegetable blends well with almost any dish imaginable. From baked, boiled, mashed to soups, curries, broths, or even salads- potatoes can be used in a staggering range of mouth-watering recipes.
A native of the Americas, potatoes are a great source of potassium, iron, and vitamins B16 and C. When eaten with the skin, they become a great source of fiber too. What’s even better, one medium-sized potato only adds about 120 calories to your diet. All the more reason to have some freshly cultivated straight-from-the-farm potatoes, right?
Just like tomatoes, fresh homegrown potatoes taste completely different from the ones you find at a supermarket. There’s absolutely nothing like the taste of some freshly dug out baked potatoes coming straight from your garden.
Don’t have a garden? Or short of gardening space? No worries. You can still cultivate potatoes at home, in a good old container. But how do you know when to harvest potatoes? Worried about when to dig up potatoes in a container? Don’t be. Read on.
Everything to Know about Cultivating Potatoes at Home
Potatoes are a delicious treat and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Another important benefit of potatoes is that these absolutely delicious and nutritious vegetables can be grown on a small scale very easily at home.
They need a cool, but frost-free climate to grow. In regions with high temperatures, the spring, fall and summer are good for potato cultivation. However, in cooler regions, the hot season must be utilized for this purpose. Most varieties need about 70-130 cool, frost-free days to reach harvest.
Dry soil or excessive heat is bad for their growth. It is always advisable to grow potatoes from ‘seed potatoes’, which is either a potato or a part of one containing an ‘eye’ from where a sapling would sprout. They can be easily grown in your backyard garden, or even in a container.
Growing your own potatoes gives you the benefit of consuming a completely organic healthy vegetable spared from the chemicals and sprays that the commercial ones come with. You are also free to cultivate varieties that are not very commonly available, like the fingerling potatoes.
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Growing Potatoes in a Container
Cultivating the tubers in a container instead of a farm or garden is in many ways, better. Other than being economic and conserving your precious garden space, cultivating potatoes in a container spares you the trouble of worrying about weeds and pests. Harvesting the produce also becomes a lot easier. Here’s how to cultivate potatoes in a container:
- Find a suitable container. You can grow potatoes in any well-drained, large-sized container such as a trash bin or a nursery pot. You can even make your own ‘potato condo’ which is a homemade box made with wooden planks that you keep building taller as your plants grow. Whichever container you use, make sure it is well-drained as wet soils will lead to rotting.
- The next step is to fill your container with 4-6 inches of good quality potting soil. Be sure to use a variety that is well-drained. If your potting soil does not include fertilizer, add in a slow-release, preferably organic fertilizer.
- Now plant your seed potatoes. Small seed potatoes can be planted just as they are, while the larger ones have to cut into pieces of 2 inches each. While planting, make sure each piece has several ‘eyes’ on it.
- Make sure you have planted your potatoes with adequate space between them. You need to plant them at least 5 to 7 inches apart. A 20 inches wide pot can only handle up to 4 potato plants. This might appear too less in quantity, but the size of the harvest is sure to surprise you.
- Cover the seed potatoes with another 3 to 4 inches of soil.
- Keep your container at a place where it receives at least six to eight hours of sunlight. Keep watering your plants at least once a day, making sure the soil is moist. Be sure not to over-water.
- Once your plants have grown about 6-7 inches, you need to ‘hill’ them. Hilling refers to the process of adding soil and compost mix to your plants as they grow. Add a few inches of soil to them, covering some leaves, but leaving at least two-thirds of the plant sticking out. Be sure not to break the plants in the process. Keep repeating this process as your plants grow at two-week intervals, stopping only when the container is full.
- Look out for pests like Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, and aphids. Handpick both larvae and adult beetles, and knock the aphids off the plants with a strong blast of water. Diseases like scabs and blights are common. Though scabs do not affect the quality of the produce, blights are dangerous. Use compost tea spray to get rid of them. Practicing crop rotation and using disease-resistant varieties can solve these problems.
When you grow your potatoes in a container, it is natural to worry about when to harvest potatoes in containers. But why get worried when you can simply read on and find out for yourself?
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When are Potatoes Ready to Harvest?
Now that you know how to cultivate potatoes in your container, you might be wondering how long it takes to harvest potatoes.
Well, this question is tricky because potato tubers can be harvested at any time depending upon your taste preferences and convenience. You can either wait for them to mature or dig them up one by one before maturing to enjoy the taste of freshly harvested new potatoes. Most varieties mature within 70 to 120 days of planting.
Some, however, may need a little more patience. But when in a container, how do you know potatoes are ready to harvest? Knowing when to harvest your potatoes can also be a little confusing. Potatoes are ready to harvest at the end of the growing season.
- You can tell they are ready to be harvested when the flowers fade and the foliage turns yellowish-brown and starts to dry. This is an indicator that your spuds have matured. These are known as main crop potatoes.
- You can either leave the foliage to dry and fall off naturally, or you can cut them off. At this stage, the tubers need to be left in the ground for two more weeks for the skin to thicken, which is better for storage.
- You can also leave them in the ground until the first frost, but they are the most nutritious when harvested on time. An average potato plant produces about three to six regular-sized and several small potatoes. You may find some really small round potatoes that look too small to be mature. But this is anything but disheartening as these might be some of the sweetest and best-textured ones of the lot.
However, as you already read, there is no fixed time to harvest your delicious spuds. They can be harvested at any size. Potatoes that are harvested before they mature are called new potatoes. About 50-55 days from planting, when the flowers start to bloom, the thin-skinned, and smaller in size new potatoes are ready to be harvested as per your requirement.
The new potatoes have skin so thin that you can peel them off simply by rubbing. But new potatoes cannot be stored. So pick only as much as you require and have the tasty creamy crumbly delicious treat as fresh as you can.
But potato plants grow very fast. How to make sure that you are not missing out on the perfect time to harvest? The only way to do this would be taking good care of your plants, watching over them every day, and keeping track of their development.
Be sure to notice the little changes that take place as your plants grow bigger. This way you can also be aware that your plants are hit by disease or are infested by pests and can ward them off in time.
How to Harvest Potatoes from a Container?
The next vital question to ask is how to harvest the flavorsome tubers from the container you’ve grown them in. Digging potatoes with family is a fun game, especially for children. It is like digging up treasure that can be eaten and is delicious to taste. Yummy food and treasure hunting! Can you think of a better game? I can’t!
- Always harvest potatoes on a dry day as excessive moisture during harvesting can cause rotting. The process of harvesting potatoes depends, to a large extent, on whether you choose to harvest them as new potatoes or are patient enough to wait for them to mature.
- In case you prefer new potatoes, you can start picking them up by reaching out to the side of the hill and picking a few tubers from each plant.
- Be careful with this process as you do not want to break or damage your plants during this process. Carefully push the soil back in place and mound it on the plants after picking the potatoes you need.
You can use a gardening tool, but it is best to use hands, gloved or otherwise, during this process as that reduces the chances of damage.
When harvesting storage or mature potatoes, you need to harvest them all at once. You can insert a spade or a gardening fork into the soil, a foot away from the plant, and gently lift up the entire plant along with the root mass.
Even after this, some tubers may be left in the soil. Use gloved hands to look for any missed potatoes that have been left-back.
You can also harvest potatoes from the container simply by emptying the entire container onto a wheelbarrow or a tarp and then sift through the soil using your hands to find the harvest. This process saves time and is a lot easier than harvesting directly from the ground on a farm or garden.
Always be gentle with the potatoes while harvesting, taking special care not to bruise or damage their skin. Avoid damaging, piercing, or slicing them accidentally at all costs.
If they do get damaged, eat them right away. Harvested potatoes should never be left in the sun as that can make them green in color, producing a bitter chemical compound called solanine.
The next step would be to allow the tubers to rest or cure before storing them. This lets the skin thicken up and provides for longer shelf life. For curing, place them on a dry newspaper, cardboard, or paper towel in a single layer and keep them in a dark, cool, and well-ventilated place with high humidity for a week or two.
After curing, remove the damaged potatoes and store the rest. Though cultivated annually, potatoes are available perennially because of their long shelf life.
Potatoes do not need to be refrigerated. You can store them in a dark, well-ventilated corner of your basement or cellar. The storage area needs to be cooler than the curing space. A temperature of 40⁰F is ideal. If stored under ideal conditions, potatoes retain their quality for about six to eight months. They can be kept in paper bags, baskets, or even cardboard boxes, but avoid piling too many together as that might encourage rotting.
Keep checking your potatoes regularly to look for any signs of damage. New potatoes that have thin skin cannot be stored long and have to be consumed soon after harvesting. You can save the best potatoes as seeds for the next season. Do not save potatoes that are soft, damaged, or have started to rot. In case of a pest infestation or being hit by diseases, do not save any potato at all.