Garden Help Desk: Are my potatoes ready for harvesting? 01

A squash patch after frost.

Question: I think my potatoes are ready to harvest. What’s the best way to do that and get them ready for storage?

Answer: If your potato vines have died down, there’s no reason you can’t start harvesting. If the vines haven’t died back yet and if we continue to have cool, mild weather, the potatoes may continue to increase in size a little bit before the vines do die back to the ground. Of course, you could also have been harvesting small new potatoes at the edges of the planting rows for the past several weeks if you’d wanted to.

Once you’re ready to harvest, let the soil dry out for a few days and then carefully lift the potatoes from the soil using a spading fork if you have one. No matter what garden tool you use to loosen the soil and lift the potatoes, do it carefully to avoid damaging the tubers. Potatoes that have been bruised or nicked during harvest won’t store as well as unblemished potatoes.

After you get your potatoes out of the ground, you should gently brush away excess soil and put your potatoes in shallow containers in a cool, dark area to cure for about two weeks. Don’t leave your potatoes laying out in the garden after you’ve dug them up; they will start turning green if they are left out in the sun. That greening on the tubers causes the potatoes to develop a bitter taste and can also make you feel ill if you eat too much of it.

Don’t wash your potatoes before you cure and store them, as that will just encourage decay during storage. Sort through your potatoes and set aside any damaged potatoes to be used first. Store the potatoes in a dark, cold (but not freezing) location. Check them frequently so that you can remove any soft or spoiling potatoes from your storage containers.

Question: My garden got nipped by frost. I’m hoping maybe the plants will recover so that I will get more squash. Is there anything I can do help them recover?

Answer: There are lots of garden veggies that don’t mind a chilly might, but squash plants are very tender, and it doesn’t take much frost to end the garden season for them. You won’t be getting any new squash from your patch, but it looks like most of the squash are mature. The squash and pumpkin fruits will be fine with the light frost they got, but a hard freeze could damage them. You should go ahead and harvest them and cure them so that you can enjoy them this winter.

There are a few vegetables that you can still enjoy after a light frost, as they will love the cooler weather we’ll be having:

  • Fall lettuce.
  • Chard.
  • Kale.

These veggies can be left in the ground to harvest as needed until the ground freezes:

  • Beets.
  • Carrots.
  • Parsnips.
  • Turnips.

Many gardeners think the flavor of these root crops is even sweeter and better after some frosty weather.

Some garden crops aren’t improved by a light frost. Peppers and tomatoes are tender plants, just like squash and pumpkins. The plants are easily affected by frost, but sometimes, there are still good tomatoes and peppers in the middle of the plants that haven’t been damaged. They’re perfectly safe to eat fresh, dry or freeze, but frost damage can affect the acidity of tomatoes, so they shouldn’t be used for canning.