For some kids, the two best times of the year are Christmas and the potato harvest. Yes, you heard it! Digging up potatoes! There’s a certain joy in unearthing these garden treasures.
A Family Tradition
Every year, Cully Colantino, age 13, visits his uncle in Monticello, Maine, with his little sister Florence to harvest potatoes at an uncle’s 1,000-acre farm.
His mother, Kirsten, says their visits to her family farm are also one of her favorite traditions. “I was raised spending summers and winters on the farm. My grandfather started it. His name was Lawrence Good—and he named it Good Farms. He passed it on to my uncle Tom, who has worked on the farm all his life. Now my kids have been following this tradition.”
How Potato Harvesting Works
Potatoes are one of the last crops to be harvested in the fall between late September and mid-October.
They are planted in early spring when the soil is still heavy. Trenches are cut, sprouts are planted, and the roots are covered. This potato fields on this farm cover 48 acres. (See how to plant and grow your own potatoes here.)
Sometimes Kirsten visits the farm in the summer. “You might be surprised by how beautiful potato fields are! Beautiful, green low foliage covers the ground with white flowers. It’s so majestic to look out at the fields to see green and white.”
By the fall, the leaves start to yellow and the plants die back. It’s harvesttime!
Fields have died back and are ready for the harvest.
During harvest season, the kids get up early and watch the frost on the fields, waiting until it’s warm enough to run outside. There are times when they have to wait until 1 P.M. to start digging. The ground must be warm and dry—and it can not be raining—to dig potatoes.
At the start of a day’s harvest, two large windrowers travel down the rows of crops (called windrows), lifting the potatoes from the earth with large shovels.
Cully and his cousin Eric riding a potato windrower.
The windrowers separate the potatoes from the vines, plant material, and soil. Then, they place the potatoes on top of the ground.
Potatoes deposited in rows by windrowers.
Following behind the windrowers is a harvester alongside a loading truck.
The harvester collects the potatoes; often, the crew stands on the harvester to help pick out the rocks that inevitably come along with the potatoes. Then, the potatoes travel up a conveyor chain and pour into the nearby truck.
The harvester and potato truck in action.
When the potato truck is full, it leaves to dump potatoes in the potato house—and a new truck rotates in. The potatoes are stored in large buildings with giant bins and insulated walls to keep the potatoes dark and cool. (See how to build your own root cellar here.)
This year, the potatoes will be sold to grocery stores and french fry makers. The following year, there won’t be potatoes in these fields. The crops will rotate to avoid depleting the soil of nutrients. Next year will be wheat!
On the wheat combine! Cully (at the far right), sister Florence, cousins Odin (in front) and Atticus.
Digging Up Treasures
The machines are cool. But the real magic for the kids is potato harvesting the old-fashioned way—digging in the dirt with their hands! Imagine an excuse to get dirty without anyone caring.
The children’s eyes light up as they unearth each potato. What size is it? Oh, a big one! What shape is it? Look at this one! Any more?
Kirsten finds that the harvest also brings life lessons to her children. “They see how hard everyone is working in the fields and how hard it is to move earth. The potatoes must be harvested all at once, from 6:30 A.M. to 8 P.M., 7 days a week, until it’s done. Everyone’s exhausted but happy. There’s a big harvest celebration party to give thanks to all the workers and everyone who pitched in. Then, the kids get to go home to eat what they just dug up. They’re participating in the circle of life.”
Their mother, Kirsten, says that they never want to stop digging to discover their treasures.
It’s as if they’re opening a new gift each time.
Florence really digs potatoes!
It may not be Christmas in all its meaning, but it’s a gift from the earth.
So maybe it’s not so surprising that a child’s favorite holidays could be Christmas and harvest.