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Potatoes – Harvesting and Storing

Mature Potatoes – Now What?

When potato vines wither and die the potatoes are mature.  They won’t grow anymore. Leave them in the ground at least 14 more days to allow time for their skin to thicken. This is the easiest way for the potatoes to cure. It goes a long way towards reducing bruising and rot in storage.

If for some reason you have to take them out of the ground right away you’ll have to go to a bit more trouble:  Lay out the blemish free potatoes in a dark place at 50 to 65 degrees F with humidity of 85-95% about 10 to 14 days to give the skins time to harden before storage.

Handling Potatoes at Harvest

Harvest in dry conditions if possible. Let the potatoes air dry for an hour or two after removing from the soil.  Just enough so the soil dries and can be gently brushed off using your hand or a soft cloth.

DO NOT WASH the potatoes that you plan to store.

Separate bruised or damaged potatoes. They’re ok for eating, but won’t store.

Long Term Storage

Potatoes can be stored for a week or two at room temperature.  But long term storage requires different conditions.

There are about as many ways to approach potato storage as there are gardeners. You can store your potatoes in bins, wood crates, burlap or mesh bags. If you’re fortunate enough to have a cellar — it’ll be the perfect place to keep them.

If you’re to get the long term storage you want, your method of storage should meet the following 4 conditions:

  • Be cool (about 40 to 50  degrees F)
  • Dark
Keep Potatoes in the Dark
Potatoes exposed to light will turn green. When this first begins — the green is chlorophyll. It is also an indicator that the potatoes have started to form solanine.

Solanine is poisonous in large quantities. To avoid stomach aches or any poisoning that could result, cut the green off.  If the entire potato is green discard it.

  • High humidity. (You don’t want a build up of water.  That will cause rot.  Just high humidity. If too dry potatoes will shrivel.)
  • It should allow the potatoes to breath.  (For example, burlap bags keep the light out but allow air to circulate in the bag.)

If you can meet these requirements you’ll be able to keep your potatoes for another 3 to 6 months.

Change in Texture and Flavor
Although the refrigerator may seem like the ideal place to store your potatoes, it will change their flavor and texture. Somehow the starch in the potato changes to sugar and that causes the change in flavor and texture.

Also, no matter what the storage, if temperatures go below 40 for any length of time, the starch changes to sugar.

A visual result of this excessive amount of sugar would be having fries turn brown after cooking.

Conditions Not Right?

Most modern homes don’t have a suitable place to meet the requirements for long term potato storage.

If that’s the case with you (it is with me) there is something else that works great — especially if you don’t have voles that eat your potatoes.

Leave the Potatoes in the Ground

The earth has almost ideal storage conditions for potatoes. Dark, cool and moist.

I make sure mine stay heavily mulched to keep them cool and dark.  My soil has excellent drainage, so I don’t have to worry about rot that would result if the potatoes stayed wet.

The way we enjoy potatoes, mine will probably be long gone before a hard freeze.  But if I do have potatoes remaining, I’ll pile on another foot of straw to protect them from frost and freeze. Then, harvest as needed.

Final Thought

With a little planning and care you can enjoy your bounty of potatoes into the fall and winter.

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8 comments to Potatoes – Harvesting and Storing

  • Mary Fisher

    On storing potatoes: I’ve found that there’s no ideal method. If they’re in the dark they’ll sprout. If they’re in the light they green. If they’re dry they’ll wither, if they’re damp they’ll rot.

    The best way is to eat them within a week!

    If you’re like us, not using potatoes daily, as a staple, you can gorge on newly dug potatoes and they become a luxury. So versatile too …

    The joy of digging potatoes is to see an edge poking out of the Earth, like an egg or a pearl. It’s always exciting.

    Well it is for me. Perhaps I should get out more.

  • Theresa

    Hi Mary,
    I think the exciting feeling when you’re digging potatoes is shared by all gardeners.
    Nothing like it!
    The ideal method for storing is outlined above — BUT — as I mentioned — it’s pretty hard to meet those conditions in most modern home.
    Theresa

  • Gene

    I know this is old post, but I’m going try leaving mine in the ground this year and harvest as needed, or let them sprout as volunteers. We eat a lot as well, and I ran out in September, so this year I will plant about 75lbs and in successions as you do. Weather has been great here, about 75* today, so I put in my first row yesterday and will follow that every three weeks for a few months with the kennebecs going in last. Should I worry about the heat here in upstate SC? I doubt if there is much difference between here and Virginia, you’re probably a few degrees cooler, but not by much.

  • Theresa

    Hey Gene.
    When you ask about the “heat” — I am assuming that you mean the heat we’ve had lately like your 75 degree day yesterday.
    Temperatures have indeed been unseasonably warm. If potatoes sprout and come through the ground and then we have freezing temperatures — it’ll kill the above ground portion — especially if it’s a hard freeze. Not much you can do about it though.

    I assume you mulch heavily — so in spite of losing the stem above ground, the potato will be ok and sprout again.

    Leaving the potatoes in the ground works great for me especially through the summer. When temperatures start dropping in mid to late fall the quality of the potatoes drop as well. They’re not as delicious as they are prior to that. I guess that’s the same principle as “—no matter what the storage, if temperatures go below 40 for any length of time, the starch changes to sugar.”

    I took about 30 pounds out of the ground this past fall to try to avoid that and store inside. Wouldn’t you know the temperatures soared and the potatoes didn’t keep! (I couldn’t keep that area cool enough for them.) A real downer.

    Let me know how you do.
    Theresa

  • Gene Smith

    Theresa, thanks for the reply! I was referring to our summer heat, even with mulch, I would guess our soil temps would be in the 70’s in August, would the potatoes still keep in the ground ? I’m going to try your succession plan with the last planting of Kennebecs around May 1, so they would probably still be growing. Potatoes from the garden are great, and I probably planted to many, but I couldn’t resist!

  • Theresa

    Gene, they keep even better in the summer (assuming of course you mulch heavily) because the soil is a bit drier. They come out of the ground looking so beautiful, perfectly preserved and taste wonderful.
    Kennebecs are wonderful potatoes. I’ve always enjoyed growing those.
    I think you’d also love yukon gold and rose gold if you decide to try them. DELICIOUS!
    Theresa

  • Gene

    I’m also growing Yukon Gold and Red Pontiac, certified seed from local suppliers, but not organic, 25 its of each variety. Its all the local suppliers have and It’s about $.50 per pound locally and last year i spent more than $125 with Maine potato lady for 35 lbs. I can’t be organic because of my mulch inputs, but I’m working on finding local organic sources for my mulch. I love your site and the fact that your garden philosophy is the same as mine! If it’s good enough for God and Mother Nature it’s good enough for me!

  • Theresa

    Glad you’re growing Yukon Gold. It’s a great potato. I also love Red Pontiac. Grew it for years and still have some out there, although I’d be hard pressed at this late date to distinguish them from Red Norland — a very similar variety.

    I bought from Main Potato Lady for about 3 years some time back. I would NEVER buy from her again. The reason is two fold:
    She doesn’t like questions and when I asked some, she told me to go someplace else to buy. Actually, that was excellent advice. (I had previously been buying from Jim Gerritson of Wood Prairie Farm, but wanted a variety they didn’t have and turned to the Potato Lady.)

    Now for the main reason: she sources all her potatoes as do so many. She does not grow them, so when something goes wrong she doesn’t really know the reason because she didn’t grow ’em.
    Wood Prairie is certainly more expensive than what your local supplier would probably be but they know what they’re doing! No doubt about it.

    Let me know how you do finding local organic sources for mulch. I know it’s hard to do.
    Glad you love TMG! Love having you as part of the TMG family. Great input Gene! Thanks for taking the time.
    Theresa

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