Learning how to properly store your potatoes once they have been dug from the garden is an important part of your potato growing season.
Potatoes should be stored in a cool dark room with good ventilation. The potatoes should be harvested dry or dried before entering the store- this will help to prevent rot and disease and prolong the life of the potato.
How to grow potatoes
If you would like more information about growing your own potatoes, please read my article growing your own potatoes. This covers everything you need to know from planting, preparing seed, growing, harvesting and storage and more about this great vegetable.
How to store potatoes from the garden
Like most root vegetables, potatoes can last several months if they are stored properly. After months of work planting, and caring for your potato crop, you’ll want to make the most of your harvest.
While potatoes can be harvested as you need them, the entire crop will need to be harvested before the first freeze of the year. So, how can you keep them fresh and usable? Storing garden potatoes is easy as long as you have enough space and a cool, dry location away from sunlight.
Storing new potatoes
These small, round delicacies are a treat that’s hard to pass up. When you think you may have early potatoes that are large enough to harvest, simply reach into the early hills, feeling for the best-sized tubers. If you ease them out without damaging the plant, the other tubers will continue to grow.
If the soil is very moist, and it’s difficult to hunt for the new potatoes, it’s alright to dig up the entire plant, harvest the baby potatoes before returning the plant to the soil. But work quickly, as freshly dug potatoes shouldn’t stay in the sun very long. More on that later. Once back in the hill, the potato plant should produce several more tubers.
With their thin skins and high moisture content, new potatoes won’t keep as well as more mature potatoes. They can be kept in a paper bag or loosely wrapped plastic in the fridge for a few days. Don’t wash new potatoes before storing them; the dirt clinging to the skins helps to keep them fresh, and water pooling on the skin can speed up bruising or softening.
Storing maincrop potatoes
In Northern regions, you should plant to harvest the main storage crop in September, when the days are getting cool and the first frost isn’t far off; the plant tops will be dying and sending the last of the vines’ energy underground to the tubers.
Before the Harvest
In order to maximize the ‘shelf life’ of your crop, it’s important to plan ahead; there are a few crucial steps that you can take before harvesting that will extend the storage period of your potatoes.
First, limit the water you give your plants for 2-3 weeks before the planned harvest date; this will toughen the potato skins, protecting them. You should also wait until the vines have completely died before harvesting the tubers in order to ensure the maturity of the potatoes; the vines will turn yellow and speckled, then dry up and turn brown.
If you’ll be storing most of the crop, it’s best to wait for the ideal weather conditions for harvesting it. Choose a warm, dry day after a period of little or no rain. Cloudy days are even better, since too much light can turn newly dug potatoes green and change their flavor.
If digging your potatoes manually use a 5- or 6-pronged digging fork or a pointed shovel to unearth the tubers. Dig in gently but deeply enough to raise the plant out of the hill while avoiding the potatoes. Bumps and bruises on the tubers will decrease their storage quality and may lead to infection entering the tuber leading to rot.
After the harvest
The crop can be left outdoors to dry; although they should be covered from sunlight. Most of the soil stuck on them should drop off during this time. While some growers use soft brushes to gently remove clumps of dirt, it’s not strictly necessary. Don’t wash the potatoes as it will be really hard to get them completely dry afterward.
Storing wet potatoes can lead to fungal infestations or rot. After the potatoes have dried in the open, they should be stored in the dark; don’t leave them in burlap bags or any other container which would allow light to penetrate. That would start them greening- then they will be inedible and will need to be dumped.
The curing process can further toughen up the skin of the tubers and prolong their shelf life. Curing allows any slight cuts or bruises on the potatoes to heal rapidly.
After cleaning off the loose soil, package the crop in a cardboard box or open paper bags. Place the potatoes in a darkened area with high humidity but moderate temperatures for ten days.
After curing the potatoes, check them for any damage, removing those with soft spots, green ends, or open cuts.
Because the potatoes are still carrying on their normal life process and need to breathe in storage the crop will keep best if placed in a well-ventilated container and stored in a dry location with good air circulation away from sunlight. Potatoes will keep well in bins with slatted sides and bottoms, but don’t pile them any higher than 90 cm tall.
Cool temperatures are best, though if the tubers are stored in a refrigerator that is too cool, it can increase the sweetness of the potatoes and cause them to brown quite quickly when they’re fried. An unheated basement or garage would be a good choice, but don’t store the tubers in an area that’s likely to freeze, as they will turn to rotting mush when they thaw.
The crop can last for six to eight months if stored properly. If storing garden potatoes at temperatures over 4°C, they may only last three to four months. And while red potatoes don’t last as long as the white or yellow-skinned varieties, a thick-skinned russet will last the longest. If you grow a variety of potatoes, use the thinner-skinned tubers first.
A couple of caveats
Occasionally, potatoes turn “sweet” during storage; potatoes convert a certain amount of starch to sugar, which is used up in the “breathing” process and if the process slows down – such as in a cool root cellar – the tuber won’t use all the sugar it has produced, giving the potato a sweet taste if it’s taken directly from storage and cooked.
If your potatoes sweeten, you can bring a small supply out of storage and keep them in a warmer spot for about a week, during which time the extra sugar will revert to starch — a process experts call “reconditioning”.
As mentioned above, potatoes that are exposed to sunlight may start to turn green. This is a sign that solanine, a toxic substance, is developing; it can happen if the potatoes aren’t fully covered by the soil while they’re growing, or if left in the sun for too long while harvesting, or even if they’re not stored in complete darkness. Even store-bought potatoes will turn green in they aren’t stored in a dark place.