A lot of folks, including us, are growing potatoes and it’s one of the crops that won’t give you a headache if you follow a few particularities. There are many projects which allow you to grow potatoes on smaller gardening areas and even in containers. If you have a good yield year after year, here is how you can store potatoes long term.
Potatoes need to be stored in a cool, dark place, away from other vegetables or fruits. They keep best at temperatures less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10°C), and the optimal range is between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit (2 – 4°C). If you store them in a room where temperatures are likely to freeze, your potatoes will crack open. If you want to store potatoes long term, rooms like basements or root cellars usually work well.
Some people decide to store potatoes long term in the refrigerator, but that’s not a viable option. First, the starch will convert to sugar and will change the taste and consistency of your potatoes. And second, the crop may be too large for your fridge, and there’s no use in taking up valuable space or consuming electricity.
Make sure you keep your potatoes away from light as they will turn green and bitter. They will become toxic for both humans and animals. To store potatoes long term, a curing process is required. If you don’t follow these steps, you crop will not last over the winter.
Harvesting potatoes properly
If you plan to store potatoes over the winter, or even longer the harvesting period plays an important role. You should dig them up when 2/3 of the plant is withered, and 1/3 of the vines are yellow and speckled. The harvesting should be done on the ground when there’s no raining. An important thing to keep in mind is that you should severely reduce the water you give the plants two weeks before the harvest.
Some farmers prefer to leave the potatoes in the ground after the plant completely dies as it toughens the potatoes up for storage. When you decide is time to harvest your potatoes, start by digging several inches away from the base of the plant. Use a pair of gloves when you reveal the tubers if the earth is soft to avoid damaging the potatoes. I bought a pair of garden Genie Gloves and it makes digging so much easier. If you use a shovel and you stab a potato leave it aside as it should be eaten first.
Curing is needed to store potatoes long term
The process of curing your potatoes will toughen up the skin of the tubers and will assure a longer shelf life. Before you start this process, you should lay your harvest on a bed of newspapers in a cool, dark room. Pick out the ones that got damaged during the harvest stage. Leave them aside as you will need to process them for consumption.
I leave my potatoes in a room for up to 14 days and raise the temperature to 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit so that the skin strengthens and they are completely dry. I usually cover the potatoes with another layer of newspapers.
Use a soft brush to dust off any large clumps of dirt from the surface of the potatoes. They are now ready to be stored in wooden boxes or plastic crates.
Place the boxes in a dark, cool room that has proper ventilation. You will need to check your potatoes occasionally for any that may be rotting. Even a single rotten potato can cause the whole box to rot.
Things to avoid when you store potatoes long term
When you attempt to store potatoes long term, you should avoid making these mistakes. We’ve all made them at some point, and it’s something you may have to deal with.
Don’t wash your potatoes as there’s no cleaning off needed. If you removed the clumps of dirt using a soft brush, that should be enough. If you expose your potatoes to moisture, you will shorten their life, and they will rot. You need to keep your potatoes as dry as possible during the curing and storage process.
Don’t stockpile cut potatoes. If you damaged your potatoes during the harvest process, you should leave them aside and cook them as soon as possible. The exposed flesh will not keep more than a day or two, and they will start to decay. You risk contaminating all your other potatoes.
Don’t store everything together since there are certain varieties you should consider primarily if you plan to store potatoes long term. Russet, Kennebec, Yukon Gold, Red Pontiac, Yellow Finn and Katahdin are recommended.
Don’t store potatoes with other produce such as onions, apples, pears and other fruits since they excrete a chemical called ethylene. The gas can cause flavor transfer and premature ripening.
Alternative ways of storage
Natural storage was one of the first choices for the pioneers when it came to storing potatoes, and they learned how to preserve food in the ground to enjoy it during winter times. They figured out that some vegetables may remain in the ground all winter. However, certain measures must be taken to protect those vegetables from frost and excess moisture, as well as from rodents.
Using a Pit to store potatoes long term
Creating a potato pit is a simple technique we inherited from the pioneers. To make it work, you need to find an area that remains fairly dry. A slope or a hill are the best options here as you want to avoid areas where rainwater tends to pool
Once you find the spot, dig a 1 to 2-foot deep pit at a wide dependent of the amount of potatoes you need to store. Fill the bottom of the pit with a 3-inch layer of clean, dry straw and place the potatoes atop in a single layer. You can store up to two bushels of potatoes in a single pit (roughly 16 dry gallons).
Add another deep layer of straw on top of the potatoes, between 1 and 2 feet deep. It all depends on how harsh the weather in your region gets.
As a last step, you need to put the excavated soil from the pit back on the top. Do so carefully to completely cover the newly laid straw until it is at least 3 inches thick. No straw should be exposed.
In Europe, they include additional protection in extreme climates. They dig the pit deeper, and they add a clean plastic barrel at a 45-degree angle into the pit. They fill the barrel with potatoes and place the lid on it without closing it tightly. And as a final step, they also cover the barrel with 1-3 feet of straw. This is an upgrade of the older method if you will.
Read more about how to preserve food in the ground in this article:
If you want to store potatoes long term, you should experiment now as the winter is closing in. Potatoes store fantastically compared to other produce and all you need to do is follow some basic instructions. There are many storage techniques that can help you store potatoes for months and these can become essential knowledge for food preservation.