>What We'll Do

Potato Harvesting

Potato Fork;  A four-tined fork of tempered steel, used for extracting potatoes from the ground without damaging them.
 
 

                                             THE OLD WAY:  The potato fork is used mainly for lifting potato crops, but is also be used for lifting many other vegetable root crops as well. With its flat tynes it is less likely to damage vegetables and plants as you lift them out of the ground. 

How Do You Use This Fork?

It is difficult to describe how to use gardening tools as everyone uses them differently. You will develop your own technique with use. If you have experience of hand tools you will have no problems mastering the use of this fork.  The trick is to get the fork to do the work, making it easy for you. Now digging is hard work, especially if your soil is heavy, full of clay, so take it easy to start with, gradually getting used to it and building up your body strength. For ease of use and comfort the overall length of the fork is critical.  It needs to be long enough to prevent you from having to bend your back too much. Now, the easiest way to find the right length potato fork for you is to select one which reaches your waist when the head is fully in the ground. If it reaches slightly above your waist it will still be ok.

The best position for using a potato fork for any digging work is to place the blade of the fork vertically on the soil surface in the place you want to dig. With both hands gripping the top of the handle and keeping you back as straight as possible put one foot on top of the head with the other foot just behind and to the side of the fork head.  Push the fork into the ground, using you whole body weight through your foot on the head and your hands on the handle, as deep as you need to go. Remove your foot from the head and move one of your hands down the shaft and again with your whole body weight, this time through your arms via your hands on the handle and shaft, pull the fork backwards while gently bending forward. Lift the fork now full of soil clear enough from the ground to turn it over. Repeat the process until you have finished.

After a couple of goes you will find the best most comfortable position and technique that suits you best. Once you have, stick with it, it makes digging that bit easier.

A couple of tips: If you haven't done any digging before, or for sometime it will be hard work and you will suffer aches and pains. Don't overdue it.  Wear thick-soled boots to prevent discomfort to your feet and thick leather, rigger type, gloves to protect your hands. If you have a lot of digging to do, don't lift a full fork load every time, digging is hard work, so light loads are best.

Take regular breaks and share the load.

Step 1:

Dig the potatoes when the visible plants have turned brown. Use a potato fork or a shovel and begin digging approximately 1-foot away from the individual plants. Pull the potatoes from the dirt and brush off any remaining soil.

 

Oh crap! That’s alot’a work!  So, we’ll start with using a Potato Plow (right) attached to the back of the Farmall Cub tractor if we have to, cause we'll likely have a Potato Harvester, which will lay up and out most of the taters from within the furrow, atop the ground. Folks will follow up kicking about the rows and picking the taters up into buckets. We’ll clean’em, sort’em, bag’em, and stack’em for distribution into 5 pound plastic potato bags we have for local pantries, and into the bulk bins for GBFB. Then we’ll eat some fresh French Frys ourselves!

Potato Plow rigged to the Farmall Cub.

Potato storage

Potato harvesting is certainly an experience that most gardeners look forward to every fall. Here are some tips to make sure that the potatoes harvest and storing keeps one rife with potatoes the winter long!

We will need the following materials for how to harvest potatoes:

1.      Some Garden Hoses or a water source – We got that.

2.      Gardening Gloves – Bring yours. We will have some gloves if you do not have any.

3.      Enough shovels for each person taking part in the potato harvest. – Good idea! Bring some. If we don't breakdown. Probably not gonna need them unless it's an emergency.

4.      Spading forks for each person present. – Yet another good idea! Bring some more. If we don't breakdown. Probably not gonna need them unless it's an emergency.

The first tip to harvesting potatoes you will want to keep in mind is that we don't want to harvest all of the potatoes at once. We will want to leave some potatoes to grow and be harvested later.

The best time for when to harvest potatoes is after the tops of the vines have died but before the hard freeze of the fall or winter hits, about 3 days of 27 degrees of freeze. You will also want to make sure to water your potato garden very well after each harvest for early live growing plants. Harvesting is stressful on the plants and watering helps to alleviate that. In the field we will not have this condition, but it's good to know for gardeners. 

Below: New donated Kubota L3800HST Tractor, pulling Donated IH PTO powered potato digger, before we outfitted the Hydraulic RAM to replace the digger Tender.
would we need any other hand tools at all?  Not as long as it works...
 
To harvest potatoes, you will want to dig under the plants with either your shovel or your spading fork. You want to be careful and try not to damage the potatoes in the digging process. Our Farmall Cub attached Potato Plow will do most of the hard work. 

Know that fresh potatoes are fragile, so be very careful! When you have gotten underneath the plant with your shovel or spading fork, lift the entire plant and shake the soil off of it. Pull the potatoes you want from the vine. This is the most obvious part of potato harvesting and storing.

When potato harvesting, use new potatoes immediately. New potatoes are smaller and are usually only a couple of inches big. The bigger potatoes can be stored for later. Mature potatoes can be kept for as long as six months, as long as you keep them in a cool, dark place that has enough humidity.
 

Digger, Pickers - into buckets, Buckets into trailer or Bins on Trailer

Volunteers in the field pick just dug taters into buckets and empty to cart for bagging for local food pantry.

 How to store potatoes There are lots of techniques when it comes to storing potato, particularly if you want to store your potatoes for any lengthy period of time. Don't worry about rinsing the potatoes off before you store them. In fact, it's better for the potato if you don't rinse it at all! For presentation and as we may be wash cleaning the potatoes for bagging. Potatoes are best served when stored in a bag that has holes in it. Plastic bags, burlap bags and brown paper bags work best for potato storage.

For potato storing, a root cellar is ideal. If you don't

 

Maybe Wash for Bagging, depends on conditions

Trinity ELC Kutztown volunteers above bagging taters.
Pantries typically do not have staff and equipment to handle the bulk 1,000 pound bins and to bag bulk potatoes

 have one, a cool place that is dark and humid (or damp) will work equally well. Make sure that your potato storage space is between forty five and fifty degrees. Avoid the refrigerator, as it will cause the potatoes to be too sweet.

You will also want to keep the potatoes away from the onions because when they are kept close to each other, they produce gases that are harmful to both plants. Potato harvesting is not nearly as complicated as you thought it might be. Those groups who are transporting their harvest for their local or regional distribution venue must be vehicle prepared to

load and take their harvest with them for handling. Have vehicles prepared for loading and transport; cleaned out trunk, tarp or old blanket, newspapers, etcetera. Don't crud up your nice car. That goes for your workers too; seat covers, plastic bags for tools, dirty boots, and dirty people.

2013 Season: We have purchased an amount of new mesh bags to resolve the fresh wet potato accelerated rot issue. This will help immediate air the bagged taters, rather then the use of limited air flow plastic bags we were using.

Trinity ELC Kutztown & Friends @ Kulp Plot 2012



A  bin of Bulk Potatoes for the Greater Berks Food Bank,
   and a bin of Bagged Potatoes for a local Food Pantry.

A Zion Maxatawny volunteer, glad we weren't using the old Potato Plow

Since late 2011, we use the Potato Diggers pulled by a tractor which digs and lifts the potatoes from under ground, sifts the dirt and places them atop the ground. We pick up those potatoes putting them into buckets, and the full buckets get picked up and emptied into bulk bin for the Food Bank who handles and redistributes, or into empty buckets into a trailer for table bagging of potatoes for the local food pantries. 

If it is necessary to use the older method of the Potato Plow, then sifting of the rows is necessary by volunteer harvesters to help harvest potatoes.

Of course, all potatoes are given and provided free of charge to Food Banks, Food Pantries, and the like who in turn provide meals to needy neighbors.

Greater Berks Food Bank PickUp @ Owen Plot 2012

 


And, then...

 

Harvest damaged potatoes are immediately put to good use, as we eat Fresh French Fries!


Webmaster:  Walt Zawaski secondenergy@gmail.com   

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