How to Know When to Harvest Potatoes
Earlies, Second Earlies, and Main Crop
Know when your potatoes are ready to be dug up and enjoyed
One of the easiest edibles to start off with as a beginner gardener is the humble potato. They’re relatively low-maintenance, can help cultivate the soil, and will also suppress any weeds that try to compete with them. They’re also very fun to dig up and eat! But when are potatoes ready to harvest?
The answer lies in which type you’ve planted. The vast majority available will fit into the categories of ‘First Early’, ‘Second Early’, and ‘Maincrop’.
In my opinion, the best type of potato to grow is one that fits into the ‘First Early’ category. These include the Red Duke of York, Lady Christl, Arran Pilot, and scores more. This year I’ve grown Pentland Javelin which is a type that matures slightly later than other First Earlies.
‘First Earlies’ are one of the earliest garden crops to mature. You plant them around the end of March and then dig them up towards late June to early July.
The way you know that First Earlies are ready are by their flowers — Early potatoes generally produce flower buds that sometimes flower and sometimes don’t. It’s time to dig up your tender, homegrown potatoes when the buds drop or the flowers that do bloom begin to fade. They’ll be about the size of an egg with skins so tender that they’ll melt in your mouth.
Potatoes that fall into the ‘Second Early’ category include Nicola, Maris Peer, Jazzy, and Kestrel.
Second Earlies differ only in one way from First Earlies — they’re planted and ready about a month later. They take about 13 weeks to mature and you harvest them in late July to August. That means that if you’ve planted both First Earlies and Second, you’ll have tender new potatoes from June to August.
Think of a massive baking potato — it’s most likely a Maincrop. Varieties in the UK include Cara, King Edward, Pink Fir Apple, and my favourite, Purple Majesty.
Maincrop potatoes are planted at the same time or up to a month later than early potatoes but they need a lot more time in the ground — about 20 weeks. Over the summer they swell and grow resulting in harvests large in both size and quantity.
You harvest Maincrops in September and early October and know the time is right when the foliage turns yellow. When this happens, cut the plant off about an inch from the ground and leave the tubers in the ground for a couple of weeks before digging them up.
Unlike early potatoes, Maincrops can be stored away for months at a time. You’ll need to leave the tubers in the sun to dry out for a few hours before putting them in bags and boxes for storage though.