digging potatoes with a garden fork

Digging Potatoes with a Garden Fork: A Step-by-Step Guide

Digging potatoes is a rewarding task for any gardener. The thrill of unearthing those hidden treasures beneath the soil is a delight to both experienced and novice potato growers alike. One effective and traditional method of harvesting potatoes is using a garden fork.

This article will guide you through the process of digging potatoes with a garden fork, including tips on spreading the soil, separating different sizes of potatoes, and leaving the dug ground level for efficient water drainage and ease of gathering.

Step 1: Preparing the Potato Area

Before you start digging, ensure that your potatoes are ready for harvest.

As mentioned earlier, new potatoes are typically smaller and harvested earlier, while mature potatoes require more time to grow to their full size. Once you’ve determined that your potatoes are ready, prepare the potato area by clearing the area of any debris, weeds, or large rocks.

these potatoes are big enough to harvest
These potatoes are ready to harvest

Step 2: Removing the Potato Tops

Before commencing the digging process, it’s best to remove the tops of the potato plants. This can be done by cutting them off at ground level with pruning shears or by simply snapping them off by hand. Removing the tops helps to reduce the amount of green matter you’ll be working through and makes digging easier.

Step 3: Using the Garden Fork

Insert the garden fork into the soil about 6 to 8 inches away from the base of the potato plants. Push the fork gently and carefully into the soil to avoid piercing the potatoes. Angle the fork slightly away from the plant to minimize the risk of stabbing the potatoes accidentally. Then, using a rocking motion, lift the fork and the soil slightly to unearth the first set of potatoes.

Step 4: Digging Below the Potatoes

To ensure you’ve collected all the potatoes in the area, dig the fork a little deeper than the initial depth. This will allow you to reach any potatoes that have grown deeper in the soil. Be gentle and avoid damaging the tubers.

Step 5: Spreading the Fork of Soil

As you lift the fork from the ground, spread the forkful of soil behind you across the soil. This scattering method helps to expose any hidden potatoes, making them easier to spot and pick up. Continue this process as you work your way through the potato patch.

level soil behind potato drills for spreading
Keeping the soil behind the potato drills flat gives you somewhere to scatter the fork of soil and potatoes onto. This makes it easier to see and gather the potatoes.

Step 6: Digging Two Drills at a Time

To give yourself more room to spread the soil effectively, consider digging two drills at a time. Digging two parallel lines with enough space in between will make it easier to scatter the soil and locate the potatoes.

Step 7: Leave the Dug Ground Level

Once you have finished harvesting the potatoes in a particular area, make sure to level the dug ground. A level surface prevents water from pooling in the trenches, ensuring proper drainage and preventing potential rotting of the remaining potatoes.

Step 8: Sorting the Potatoes

As you harvest the potatoes, sort them into two categories: smaller one suitable for seed potatoes and larger ones for consumption. Small potatoes can be bagged separately and stored for planting in the next growing season, while the larger ones can be used for cooking and eating.

seed potatoes in a bag
Potatoes which are too small to eat can be kept in a separate bag and used for seed potatoes next year.

Why Use a Garden Fork?

When it comes to harvesting potatoes, using a garden fork has distinct advantages over other tools such as spades or shovels. While spades and shovels are essential for various gardening tasks, a garden fork is specifically designed for certain digging tasks, making it the ideal tool for harvesting potatoes. Here are some reasons why using a garden fork is preferred for this purpose:

  1. Less Effort Required: Harvesting potatoes with a spade or shovel can be physically demanding, especially if the soil is compacted or heavy. Garden forks, on the other hand, are designed with several tines that penetrate the soil more easily, requiring less effort to dig. The sharp, pointed tines of the fork allow it to slide into the soil with minimal resistance, making the digging process less strenuous for the gardener.
  2. Minimal Damage to Potatoes: When digging with a spade or shovel, there is a higher risk of accidentally slicing or stabbing the potatoes, resulting in damage to the valuable harvest. The tines of a garden fork are typically wider and more spaced out, reducing the chances of harming the potatoes during the digging process. This ensures a higher yield of intact and undamaged tubers.
  3. Efficient Spreading of Soil: After inserting the garden fork into the soil and lifting, the soil and potatoes can be effortlessly spread behind you. This method allows for easier visibility and access to the potatoes, as they are scattered across the surface. It also enables you to cover a larger area more quickly, streamlining the harvesting process.
  4. Gentle Raking Action: Once the soil is spread, the garden fork can be used to gently rake through the loosened soil. This raking action helps uncover any hidden or missed potatoes that may have been obscured during the initial digging. By gently combing through the soil, you can ensure that no valuable harvest is left behind.
  5. Versatility in Various Soils: Garden forks are versatile tools that work well in a variety of soil types, including clay, loam, and sandy soils. Whether your garden soil is heavy and compacted or light and loose, a garden fork can effectively penetrate and lift the soil, making it suitable for harvesting potatoes in different growing conditions.
  6. Garden Bed Preservation: Unlike shovels, garden forks are less likely to disturb the entire garden bed during the harvesting process. The narrower tines allow for precise digging around the potato plants, reducing the disturbance to nearby vegetation and root systems.


Digging potatoes using a garden fork is a time-honored method that allows you to enjoy the rewards of your labor and appreciate the natural process of growing these delicious tubers. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can efficiently harvest your potatoes, separate them according to size, and leave your garden bed in optimal condition for future planting. Remember to handle the harvested potatoes with care and store them properly for maximum freshness and longevity. Happy potato digging!