Do you grow your own potatoes or buy in bulk from the farmers market? Follow these five easy steps to keep your potatoes fresh all winter long.
I have an unheated corner in my basement that is perfect for storing potatoes for winter. This corner stays dark, cool, and performs like a root cellar. I have added a good-sized shelving area where I store the food preserved during the growing season. The shelves are filling up with baskets of onions, garlic, and canned tomato sauce, jelly, salsa, beans, carrots, grape juice, pickles, and applesauce.
I can’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as I look over the jars and baskets of homegrown bounty. Not only because we have this food to feed us but I also feel good knowing exactly where my food comes from and that it was grown with no chemicals.
The Next Harvest to Add to the Shelves is the Storing Potatoes
I harvest fresh potatoes here and there as needed for meals, but the majority of the tubers are left in the ground to mature fully. The potato foliage usually begins dying back in August sending the last of the plants energy beneath the ground to the tubers. I like to wait several weeks or longer after the foliage has died back completely to allow the skins toughen up. This will help protect the tubers from abrasions during harvest.
The big dig of the main crop of storing potatoes is in October before the ground freezes. I watch the weather closely and choose a warm, dry day after a period of little or no rain.
I dig carefully using a digging fork to loosen the soil and then sift through with my hands to pull out the tubers to avoid damaging them. The potatoes are placed in a garden cart. If the sun is out, I shade the cart because sunlight will cause the potatoes to turn green.
Occasionally, I will come across a few potatoes damaged by moles or voles, or accidentally stab one with the digging fork. Damaged potatoes should be kept separate from your storing potatoes because they are more likely to rot and possibly infect the rest of the tubers. So place these aside to be trimmed and eaten first.
5 Steps to Storing Potatoes for Winter
1. Find an Area Suitable for Storing Potatoes: Potatoes should be stored in a dark environment at about 45˚F to 50˚F (7˚C to 10˚C). The relative humidity should be around 95% to prevent them from drying out. I store potatoes in an unheated corner of the basement that stays dark, cool, and performs just like a root cellar. If you don’t have a basement, consider some of these other storing potato options at Mother Earth News.
2. Choose Potato Varieties that are Good for Storing: Some potato varieties known for their long term storage capabilities are Yukon Gold, Katahdin, Kennebec, and Yellow Finn. I grow Dark Red Norland, a mid-season variety and Kennebec, a late season variety. Kennebec lasts longer in storage so we try to consume the Dark Red Norland first. If you are purchasing from a farmers market, ask the growers which varieties they recommend for long term storing potatoes.
3. Cure the Potatoes Before Storing:
Curing your potatoes toughens up the skin and helps extend the storage life. To cure, spread out the unwashed potatoes in seedlings trays or boxes lined with newspapers. Cover the trays with a dark towel to eliminate light but allow air to circulate and let them cure for several weeks in an area that is between 50-60˚F.
4. Pack Up the Potatoes for Storing: Store unwashed, cured tubers in a dark area in covered boxes or bins with some holes for ventilation. I store my potatoes in recycled paper boxes nestled in shredded paper recycled from bills and other paperwork. I cut a few holes in the sides of the boxes for air circulation, add a layer of shredded paper, and spread out the potatoes, cover with more shredded paper, and continue until the box is full.
As you pack up your potatoes, lightly brush off excess dirt and inspect them carefully. Tubers with broken skin or damage should be separated and used immediately instead of stored. Once the box is full, place the cover on it, add a label, and store in a cool, dark area. Ideal storage conditions for potatoes are at 32-40˚F and 80-90% relative humidity. Can last 4-9 months in storage depending on the variety.
5. Check on the Stored Potatoes: Every few weeks I look through the boxes to remove any potatoes that may begin to rot. Usually you can tell by the scent if there is one in the box. If you notice a musky, sour dirt smell, you should go through the box to remove the rotten potato before it infects the others.
Storing potatoes this way will help keep them fresh for several months depending on the temperature and humidity. Ours usually last until March before they begin sprouting. Sprouted potatoes can be planted in spring as long as they look healthy and the previous season was disease free.
- Store potatoes separate from onions and fruits. These give off ethylene gas that can cause your potatoes to sprout prematurely.
- Keep stored potatoes in the dark. Exposure to light will cause a build-up of Solanine, a chemical that causes potatoes to turn green, produces a bitter taste, and if eaten in large quantity can cause illness. Trim off potato skin that has turned green. If the green has penetrated into the potato, throw it away.
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