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We tried our hand at growing some potatoes this summer and I'm still hopeful we have a decent yield. We took too much advice from a lot of conflicting sources and didn't really grow them the right" way. We wanted to have a so-called vertical "potato tower" but again, listened to too much contradicting advice and ended up with a strange setup:

  1. I made 3 stackable rows of 2x6's out of red cedar (see photo below)
  2. I filled the first row (ground level) with compost, mulch and top soil, and then planted a few seed potatoes a few inches down inside of it
  3. I then put the 2nd row/stack on, and filled that with with the same compost/mulch/top soil mix
  4. Ditto for the 3rd row/stack
  5. I added a 4th row/stack but didn't put any dirt/mix in it, its more of a "guard rail" so varmints can't climb inside the bed

That was about 6 weeks ago, and now we have several potato plants that have grown up through the layers of soil (hopefully sprouting chutes and potatoes along the way) and the biggest plant has started to flower:

enter image description here

I'm wondering when and how we should harvest, given our unorthodox bed setup. Any ideas or thoughts? Thanks in advance!

2

The flowers are irrelevant, except that the small green "fruits" you will get when the flowers die are toxic, so you might want to remove them if you have children or pets that might try eating them. Some potato varieties flower, others do not.

The conventional time to harvest the crop is when the foliage begins to die. Some varieties will continue to grow until the first overnight frosts kill the foliage. The first frosts of winter will not damage the potatoes, unless you leave them until the ground is frozen solid.

If your crop of potatoes is too big to use all at once, store them somewhere dark and cool, but not below freezing. A refrigerator is OK, but not a freezer. In fact, the simplest place to store them is to leave them in the ground, and dig up the amount you want to eat in the next few days.

The total growing time will vary from about 10 weeks for "early" varieties, up to 20 weeks or more for "maincrop" varieties. The longer the growing time, the bigger the crop.

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  • Thanks for the great answer here @alephzero (+1), mind if I ask a few follow up questions? (1) it sounds like the flowers can die (come and go) but the foliage can stay alive, is that correct? Meaning just because one of the flowers dies, doesn't mean that we should consider it time to harvest, correct? (2) What are the tell tale signs of the foliage actually beginning to die? – hotmeatballsoup Jul 13 at 1:42
  • (3) How long, after the foliage begins to die, before the potatoes start to rot or go bad? I agree it would be best to just dig up a few at a time, but I'd hate for a significant portion of the yield going bad if we can't eat them fast enough...any ideas? Thanks again! – hotmeatballsoup Jul 13 at 1:42
  • (1) Yes. (2) when it starts to die, it looks the same as most other dead plants - wilting, yellow, shrivelled, etc. Don't over-think it - this is what dead potato foliage look like: 123rf.com/…. – alephzero Jul 13 at 11:15
  • (3) Don't worry about that. Unless the ground gets frozen, the potatoes will stay there all winter and grow into new plants next year if you don't harvest them. You are more likely to cause storage problems by damaging them when you dig them up, by cutting them with your spade or fork or bruising them if you handle them carelessly. – alephzero Jul 13 at 11:19
  • ... note, commercial growers let the foliage get comlpetely dead and dried up (as in the picture) before harvesting, simply because harvesting using machinery to dig the potatoes and separate them from the soil works better that way. You don't need to wait that long, once the plants are "obviously dying". – alephzero Jul 13 at 11:31

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