If you've been lucky enough to grow potatoes in your backyard you'd know the sign you look for to indicate when you should harvest. It's when the green potato tops die down and you're left with bare earth. Of course, you can harvest before then, but when the top dies, you know that no more growth will follow. If you were to go out to a commercial non-organic potato farm, you'd probably see them spray herbicide (poison) onto the crop about a week before harvest. They give their plants a certain amount of time, then harvest. They need to kill off the green tops so they don't make the mechanical harvesting of potatoes too difficult. The green tops clog up the machine at worst; at best, it's just more rubbish to deal with during the harvest.
One of our many potato crops in years gone by. The potatoes are at the back in the middle of the photo.
Potatoes are an important crop for us. If we want to eat organic potatoes that have not been sprayed with poison a week before harvest, we have to grow them ourselves. That's fine with me. Home grown potatoes, like backyard tomatoes, have much more flavour than those bought at the market. You can also "bandicoot" new small potatoes from the side of the bushes while they're still growing. There is nothing quite like new potatoes, fresh from the garden that afternoon, simply boiled and served up with a little butter and a sprinkling of herbs. That, my friends, is one of the perks of vegetable gardening and it doesn't matter how much you can afford to pay for your potatoes at the market, you can never buy that degree of freshness.
Hanno bought Sebago seed potatoes a couple of weeks ago, as they were the only type he could find, but we both wanted Dutch Cream. We got some Nicolas from the shop, they're similar to Dutch Creams, and I spent a short time cutting them for chitting a couple of days ago. Chitting is the process of allowing your potatoes to develop shoots before you plant them in the ground. If the potatoes are a medium size, or small, you don't have to cut them. However, if you have larger potatoes, for the sake of economy, you can cut them in half, making sure you have shoots, or eyes on each half. Place all the potatoes, or potato pieces in egg cartons to keep them from rolling around and so the cut sides can dry out completely. Leave them in a shaded light area out of the sun. When the shoots are a few inches long, plant them out in the garden.
I feel like a real farmer when we grow potatoes. They're substantial and they need to be stored properly; they feel like real crops. Potatoes make great filling meals with only a few additions - like my kartoffelpuffer recipe here, or as a fine addition to meat when you make your favourite potato salad. So if you can find a space, take the plunge and grow some potatoes. Even if you don't have much space, you can grow potatoes successfully in wire cages. Just poke four star pegs into the grown, wrap chicken wire around them, place some compost in the bottom of the cage with potatoes on top and cover with soil and straw. As the potatoes grow, keep adding compost mixed with soil and straw and each time the green tops grow again, add more. You'll get good potatoes growing them like this but nothing is as good as potatoes grown in the garden bed. By the way, don't grow potatoes in old car tyres. Tyres contain many chemicals, including cadmium, and it's best to keep them well away from your garden.
There is no doubt about it, potatoes are an excellent crop for the backyarder. If you haven;' tried them yet, take the dive this year. I'm sure you'll be pleased you did.