2014 marks the second year I have planted potatoes following the no-dig potato planting method. I first tried this method in 2013 after reading about it in my Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Last year, I had an awesome potato harvest – well over 200 pounds. And this year, I ended up with about the same. I don’t have quite as many to store this year because we’ve eaten more of them so far, but since many people have asked me how my potatoes fared last year, I thought it was time for a post!
My method of potato storage last year was really high tech. I threw all my potatoes together in wooden bushel baskets I found a while back at Goodwill (they’re for sale on Amazon too, if you’re looking for some) and then stored them in my barn kitchen. When I needed potatoes, I just grabbed some out of the baskets and cooked them. A few did rot, but for the most part, my family of 6 was able to eat most of them over the winter and spring with little spoilage.
Since then, I have been thinking maybe I should do a better job of storing my potatoes. So, I’ve done a bit of research and here’s what I fount out.
How to Store Potatoes Over Winter
Plant the right type of potato
I planted four types of potatoes this year, and one criteria I always look for when choosing which varieties to plant is how well they store. Some potatoes, like Yukon Gold, are better keepers than other potatoes. For a comprehensive list of potatoes types and qualities, read this article from WSU, or read seed catalog descriptions too. That’s what I do, and here’s a list of my favorite free seed catalogs.
This year, I planted about 18 plants of each of the following potato varieties:
- Yukon Gold
- Purple Viking
- Yellow Finn
All 72 seed potatoes sprouted and grew nicely, and they yielded somewhere over 200 pounds of potatoes.
The next step to storing potatoes over winter is to let them harden off in the ground. That means, keeping them in the ground until the potato plants have completely and totally died, and leaving them there. I did pick potatoes during the summer for new potatoes, but most of them were left in the ground for weeks after the plants died back. We’re talking dead, dead. Not a single living leaf to be found anywhere.
I love the no-dig planting method because the harvest is also very easy. Since I didn’t plant them very deeply in the ground, I don’t have to dig down much at all to find them! Nice. I love my potato fork – it makes the harvest pretty easy, though I do have to be careful not to spear the taters as I dig.
We had a relatively dry late summer though and my soil is well drained. I didn’t want them to rot, so if the soil had been pretty wet, I would have dug them sooner. As it was, though, I thought the safest place for them was in the ground, so I left them there for weeks after the plants died.
Sort and harden
After all the potatoes are out of the ground, sort them. Remove any potatoes that were damaged during the harvest or that might be sprouting or have soft spots. Eat them quickly or they will go bad. Then, spread potatoes on newspaper and let them continue to harden for a few days in a dark or shady area – keeping the sun off the potatoes is critical. I just left mine in a shady area and skipped the newspaper. The hardening process makes the skins tougher so they hold up longer in storage.
I’ve read many ways to store potatoes. The most important guidelines seem to be:
- to keep them out of light so they don’t turn green
- store them in a porous container to let air flow through
- keep them in a cool place – 35-40 degrees
- check on them every so often to take out potatoes that might be rotting so they don’t spoil the bunch
- Don’t let them freeze! I’ve done that before too. No good! (although, I did rescue my frozen potatoes and turned them into delicious whole wheat potato bread – I still don’t recommend letting them freeze.)
For your winter storage, you can layer potatoes in single, non-touching layers and cover them with newspaper, then keep them in a root cellar, basement, or other cool area.
My dad says when he was a kid, they put all of their potatoes in the bins in the basement. He was the youngest of six farm kids and it was his job to sort through the potatoes as a kid and bring up dinner. I remember him saying that there wasn’t much worse than going through a bin of rotten potatoes. After having a found a few rotten potatoes in my day too, I believe him!
I’m keeping one basket of potatoes in my barn kitchen. The other two baskets, will be put in our well cistern thingiemabob we have on our property and I will pull up each basket as I run out in my kitchen. I’ll update next year on how this method of potato storage works out for me.
For more information on storing potatoes over winter
Mother Earth News’ recommendation for storing them in the garden
Garden Know How – How to keep potatoes from the garden potatoes
Garden Know How – Using potato pits for winter storage
The Country Basket – here’s a really nice tutorial on harvesting potatoes
Seed Savers – Potato Growing Guide
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Do you grow potatoes? And do you store them over winter? Please share your best tips!