This morning I dug up the potatoes. Since the area is suffering a heat wave I wanted to get an early start before conditions became unbearable. I've been hoping for a good harvest as the potato plants have looked very healthy.
The first task was removing the structure. The potato plot was ringed by saplings fastened to fence posts at each corner. The rectangle was cross-hatched with thin cable and string at about 20 inches in height. I did this to support the plants against the inevitable summer storm which would otherwise flatten the plants. I think keeping the plants upright helps them last a bit longer. This is what the patch looked like before dismantling:
After the structure was out and the straw raked away I began pulling up the plants. I debated over the best way to extract the potatoes from the soil and was leaning toward snipping the stems at the base then digging everything up with a shovel. But I thought I'd first see how many potatoes would come up if I grasped the stems together and pulled up gently. Quite a few potatoes came up this way.
The uprooted plants make for a lot of foliage - two heaping wheelbarrow loads for the compost bin, where the plants were chopped up with a machete. By this point the weather conditions were taking a toll on me. The combination of heat and humidity had me sweating profusely and stopping frequently. I was motivated mostly by the thought of having to finish tomorrow if I did not finish today, as the weather tomorrow is supposed to be even worse.
Quite a few potatoes came up with the plants. I noticed that the Red Pontiacs had a lot of vole damage, the Kennebecs not so much.
Then came the heavy work - spading over the plot. I spaded the first row into the wheelbarrow then turned each succeeding row into the small trench previously spaded. This is where the vole damage became apparent. I'm guessing that it approached 50% for the Red Pontiacs. Many of the damaged potatoes were tossed as I found them.
Once the plot was spaded over and the potatoes removed the soil was leveled. The squash vines that were growing into the plot were pushed back out of the way. I set up trelllises on two sides to help contain the squash (fat chance).
Then the straw that was set aside earlier was scattered over the soil (what else am I going to do with it?) and the squash vines that had been pushed back while I was working in the plot were trained out over the soil. I tried to be gentle with them but they look a little worse for the wear. I expect that by tomorrow they will have recovered, and in a week the plot will be covered in green.
The Red Pontiacs that were harvested when the plants were pulled up are on the left. The potatoes that were dug up with the spade are on the right. The picture is out of focus but vole-damaged potatoes are visible.
Even with the animal damage, 24 pounds of Red Pontiacs and 13 pounds of Kennebecs were collected. I think I'll have to give potatoes and possibly sweet potatoes a sabbatical next year. If the critters know there is an underground buffet for them every year then the damage will only get worse next year. So next year I'll plant some sweet corn in their place, a first time for me.