Digging Potatoes

"Digging Potatoes" engraving by Clare Leighton, 1935.


Our potato crop waits to be dug. As I fork up a root and scrape a potato with my fingernail the skin slips off. All around us work shouts to be done. We have no time now for quiet enjoyment of our garden, for the first frosts and the autumn rains will soon be upon us, checking our digging and planting.

We enjoy digging our potatoes. It is the big treasure hunt of the year, evenmore exciting than searching for the fruit in the tangle of straw round the strawberry plants. The excitement lies in the anticipation we feel each time we stick the fork into the ground. How many potatoes will there be beneath this plant? This anticipation never tires, even after rows of digging. Here is all the mystery of an unknown, invisible harvest. We can see the extent of our peas and beans, and we know that each green-leafed parsnip top will have a corresponding root below, but who can tell how many potatoes huddle beneath the plant that we see above the ground? As my fork brings up the cool, moist potatoes, I lay them out in the sun to dry. They look beautiful as they lie on the earth in creamy rows. The limp, fading haulms curve away from them by their side in regular lines. Minute, undeveloped potatoes cling to the tendril roots of the plants, smooth of skin and fresh of colour in contrast with the decay of the aged seed potato.

By Clare Leighton in Four Hedges: A Gardener's Chronicle

Aroostook (Maine, USA) Potato Harvest by N.C. Wyeth

Notice the wooden barrels and baskets used in the harvest
until mechanical combine harvesters became popular in the
1970's. The Maine potato harvest still provides a school
break for students to help out.

The potato harvest in Colorado, USA in the 1930's.
Horse drawn sleds carried a potato sorting and bagging machine.

A 1970's mechanized potato harvest in the Netherlands.

USA potato industry publication, circa 1917-1925.