Harvesting Potatoes: Our Favorite Time of Year

Tractors in the field

What do you love about fall? Is it the cool weather? The leaves changing color? For us, harvesting potatoes is the best part about fall.

Right now, our farmers have fields of farm fresh potatoes, and they’re ready to pluck, clean, and send to your kitchen. We love the fall potato harvest because we love providing those healthy spuds for you and your family to enjoy. But how does growing and harvesting potatoes work? Let’s look and see…

Harvesting potatoes starts in the spring.

Have you ever left a potato on the counter for too long, and it started sprouting eyes or even little shoots? Potatoes are actually the seeds of the potato plants, and when they sprout that way, they’re actually trying to grow more potatoes.

In early spring, we plant what are called “seed potatoes.” They’re not much different from the potatoes that you eat for supper. The big difference is that they’re guaranteed to sprout and grow. We want to make sure that every seed we plant grows up to make plenty of healthy spuds for your family to eat.

Our seed potatoes go into the ground after the last frost of the spring, and we get to harvesting those potatoes just before the first freeze of the fall. It’s not easy to predict, but our farmers are old pros.

Potato Fields

Come fall, we get to harvesting potatoes for you.

This year we planted a brand new variety of potatoes – Golden Russets – at Ernie Ford’s Sunny Valley Farms in Colorado. You can see his field in the picture above.

Our farmers use a special tractor called a potato harvester to dig up all of those taters that are almost ready to eat. Here’s one of our special trucks harvesting and shaking some of the extra soil off of the organically grown Golden Russets that Ernie Ford grew for us:

Harvest Truck

From the harvester, we clean ‘em off even more, then move ‘em to a truck. After we fill up a truck with Ernie’s potatoes they make their way to our storage facilities, where they get another round of cleaning then rest in the cool, dark storage space so they can cure and be ready to ship to stores. Here are Ernie’s potatoes on their way to the cool storage:

Potato Storage

Those spuds rest for a while, and then we pack ‘em up and ship ‘em off to stores for you.

We love potato harvest time so much that we even made a special video to show off how our farm fresh potatoes go from our farmers’ fields to your plate. Take a look!

Of course, the best part about the fall potato harvest is eating those farm fresh spuds. Check out our recipes section for healthy potato recipes that your family will love!

How we grow our potatoes

Even just ten years ago, most people didn’t think all that much about how the food on our plates got there. Most of us just grabbed a fork and went to town. Times sure have changed, and we think for the better. If you’re reading this blog, you probably want to know more about how a potato is grown. And, although we’ve been working in the fields for many many summers, this is our moment in the sun. Here’s a quick low-down:

1. We use certified seed

Potatoes grow from other potatoes. That is, the part you eat is also the seed. So farmers use potatoes to grow more potatoes. Because potato plants are pretty susceptible, they’re grown from potatoes called certified seed—potatoes guaranteed to be disease-free. Usually, each “seed potato” is cut into smaller pieces and planted. But before we plant, we work on our soil a bit.

2. Preparing the fields

To get the best yield, we spend a lot of time in the early spring plowing the fields, amending the soil, and keeping eye on the temperature. We don’t want to plant if there is danger of a hard frost, which could kill all our seed. But, because potatoes take about 80-100 days to mature, we don’t want to wait too too long because the date of the first fall freeze is a bit of a gamble, too. So it’s kind of like Vegas, baby.

3. Growth Stages

Potatoes grow in 5 phases: (1) sprouts and roots emerge (2) leaves grow and begin photosynthesis (3) the plant flowers and makes new tubers (potatoes) (4) after the soil reaches about 80° F, the plant stops making new potatoes and concentrates on growing each potatoes bigger (at this critical stage, we monitor the temperature, moisture level and nutrient balance of the soil in our fields, all the time). (5) Finally, the green part of the plant dies back, the skin on the potatoes begins to thicken and it’s time to start digging.

4. Harvest

Most commercial potatoes are harvested by a special tractor called—you guessed it—a potato harvester. It has special prongs that scoop up the potatoes and some soil, too. Potatoes are moved along an apron chain conveyer belt up into the harvester, where workers separate out dirt, dried stocks, rocks and other debris. The potatoes move along the harvester, are collected in another big truck, and then driven to a storage facility. To get a better idea, watch this video.

5. Sort and Store

At the storage facility, workers again inspect and sort the crop as it is unloaded. Usually, we’ll store potatoes for a bit to help the skin on the outside to further thicken and better protect the potato. Potatoes should be stored in a dark, well-ventilated area at about 40° F.

6. Packing

After the potatoes have cured a bit, it’s time to ship them out. They’re pulled from storage and taken to a packing facility—sometimes this is done with water, sometimes it’s a job for a truck. Potato processing areas are like big “potato factories” with potatoes being conveyed up, down and all around where workers look over each potato, sort them by size and pack ‘em up. Once they’re boxed, bagged or wrapped, they’re shipped off to grocery stores where savvy buyers everywhere scoop them up and bring them home for dinner.

Growing potatoes is a full-time, year-round job. These are just the nuts and bolts. We hope you enjoyed learning about how we grow potatoes on our farms. If you have more questions, let us know.