Growing your potatoes in the home garden and storing them for winter is a great way to provide your family with healthy and nutritious food all year. Following the best practices for harvesting, curing, and storing potatoes is essential to your success. Find out what curing means and how it affects the storage life of your potatoes.
What does curing potatoes mean?
Potatoes can be stored for winter use once harvested in the fall. However, they must be cured first. Curing potatoes is the process of allowing air to dry the potatoes for 10 to 14 days. This will toughen the skin and heal any minor cuts or bruises before long-term storage.
Curing potatoes get them ready for winter storage and will lengthen the time they will remain fresh and tasty. Cured potatoes will last six to eight months in storage.
Although you can store potatoes without curing them first, they will likely remain fresh for a mere two to three months. Curing your potatoes before storing them lessens the chances of rot spreading in storage.
Why should I cure my potatoes after harvest?
Curing your potatoes before storing them for the winter lengthens the time they will stay fresh in storage. It also allows you to remove any bruised or damaged potatoes that do not heal during curing.
Like the proverbial rotten apple that spoils the whole barrel, one rotten potato can quickly cause others to rot. Curing them before storing them reduces the chances of bad potatoes ending up in storage.
Cured potatoes are also dry and clean and don’t make a dirty mess in storage. You will need to wash them before eating them, of course, but they should remain relatively soil-free and dry during storage.
How to cure potatoes after harvest
Curing potatoes isn’t difficult, but it does take a little time. Follow this guide for curing and preparing your potatoes for storage.
- Harvest your potatoes in the fall when the tops have died back and the tubers are mature. To test the tubers for maturity, check the skin. If it rubs off easily, the potatoes are not yet mature and need more time in the soil. The skin of mature potatoes cannot be rubbed off with your hands.
- Brush excess soil from the potato tubers. Potatoes grown in sandy loam do not need to be brushed as the dry soil falls away easily. If they have been grown in sticky clay soil, you may need to wash them with the hose. If this is the case, you must let the potatoes dry thoroughly before curing them. You can let them dry outside in a shady area or place them on screened trays to allow air to circulate around them and dry the tubers. Do not leave potatoes in the sun to dry as this can cause the skins to ‘sunburn’ and turn green.
- Put the potatoes in slatted wooden boxes to allow the air to pass freely through them. The space should be dark, such as the basement, with good ventilation and temperatures between 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity between 85 to 95 percent, says Iowa State University Extension (ISU). Ensure there is a good flow of air through your storage area. Allow them to cure for two weeks. Any nicks, bruises, and cuts will heal, and the skins will toughen under these conditions.
- Sort the potatoes when they have finished curing and remove any soft or shriveled tubers. Look for unhealed blemishes from nicks or cuts during harvest. Potatoes with minor imperfections should be eaten right away, while healthy, crisp tubers are ready for winter storage.
- Place your cured potatoes in boxes, on trays, or on shelves in a dark location with temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees and relative humidity of 90 percent. Storing potatoes are lower temperatures poses the risk of chilling the potatoes. Chilled potatoes have a sugary, sweet flavor and blacken the flesh when frying. Higher temperatures will cause the potatoes to sprout.
Why do my potatoes taste sweet?
Potatoes chill easily, often at temperatures below 40 degrees. Chilling causes some of the starches in the potato to turn to sugar and leaves the potatoes tasting sweet. According to the Idaho Potato Commission, storing them at room temperature for a few days causes some of the sugars to turn back into starch and reduces the sweetness of the potatoes.
Can you save chilled potatoes?
According to ISU, the sweet flavor from chilled potatoes will dissipate slightly if you store them at room temperature for a few days before using them. However, leaving them on the counter where they are exposed to light is not a good option. Light exposure causes chlorophyll and the toxin solanine to build up on the surface of the potato, turning the outside of the potato green.
If you accidentally expose your potatoes to too much light and the skins turn green, you must peel the potato and cut away any green flesh before eating them.
Why are my potatoes sprouting in storage?
Potatoes should be stored for winter in temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees. If the temperature in your storage area is too warm, potatoes break their dormancy and begin to grow sprouts.
Can you eat sprouted potatoes?
Potato sprouts contain high levels of solanine, a toxic alkaloid. The sprouts cannot be eaten as they can cause digestive issues and, in extreme cases, may cause solanine poisoning. However, you can eat the potato if you peel it and remove all traces of sprouts or buds.
Why are my potatoes shriveling up in storage?
Many people are surprised to learn that potatoes in storage need high humidity to keep them fresh. The ideal humidity level for storing potatoes is 90 percent. If you store your potatoes in an area with low humidity, the tubers will shrivel as they lose moisture. To prevent your stored potatoes from shriveling, check that the humidity level is high enough in the storage area.
Allowing your potatoes to fully mature before harvesting them is essential for good storage. But curing them by allowing a good flow of air through them for 2 weeks before storage is important too. Curing extends the storage life of your potatoes by several months. Uncured potatoes will keep for two to three months, while properly cured potatoes will keep for six to eight months.