Potatoes, like most veggies, are fussy when it comes to how they’re stored
Many of us have purchased bags of potatoes from the grocery store, then stored them in our kitchen only to them find them covered in eyes or sprouts when we want to use them. The same goes for homegrown potatoes that you’re pulling from the garden. Since you’ll want to keep these longer than your store-bought variety, you need to store these delicious tubers properly so they can feed you all winter long.
1. Make sure you pinch the flowers of the plant
By now, you’ve probably noticed that garden potatoes sprout up into a green plant with foliage—who knew?! If you were thinking that they look a little like a tomato plant, you’d be right. Potatoes are a part of the nightshade family (or solanacea), the same family as the tomato, pepper and eggplant.
You also may have noticed that this plant produces a flower that looks like a tomato’s—this flower turns into the true fruit of the plant but isn't edible. Instead, we eat the tuber (potato) which is growing underground. These aboveground flowers and fruit can be poisonous and cause illness, especially for children, so it’s best to pinch these flowers off once we see them pop up. By trimming the flower, we’re also encouraging the plant to put its resources into producing more potatoes.
Don’t be fooled by a single potato plant, it can harbour a whole lot of tubers underneath. Pinching these flowers is one of the first signs that your potatoes are nearly ready for harvest.
2. The plant will then start to yellow
Harvesting potatoes while the plants are still green is perfectly fine—just not for storage. These young or new potatoes are incredibly delicious to enjoy immediately, but they haven't developed a thick enough skin (which is why they’re so tender and great for eating). What this also means though is that they won’t hold up in long-term storage.
The plants will yellow at first, which will tempt you to dig them up, but wait! The potatoes aren’t going anywhere and they’re actually still developing the skin they need to store well. Wait until the plant fully browns and dies back and then they’ll be ready for the next step.
A note: if you’re not ready to harvest them yet even after they’ve died back, don’t worry! They store perfectly well in the cool soil. There’s no rush here, except if frost is approaching.Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
3. They need to go through the curing process
You’ll want to harvest your potatoes when the soil is dry, so ideally before a rain. If it rains right when you were planning to harvest, wait a few days for the soil to dry out. When wet, the soil clumps and hinders the drying process.
When you're ready, lay potatoes out in the sun for a few hours to help with the drying, then lightly brush any dirt off without damaging the skin and without washing the potato. After this, move your potatoes to a cooler, well-ventilated, dry, covered area to cure for 10 days.
Cooler temperature (around 18 degrees Celsius) and high humidity is ideal for curing potatoes, as well as spreading them out on a sheet or harvest rack to maintain good airflow. In the curing process, the potatoes will be able to heal any nicks and small blemishes, and allowing them to fully dry out will prevent potential rot in storage.
4. Check for damage before you store them long term
At this point, you can check whether any potatoes have softened or if they have major blemishes—use those immediately as they won’t store well. The rest can go into a cold room for long-term storage. A temperature of approximately 4 to 10 degrees C is ideal for storage; you’ll never want the temperature to rise about 18 or drop below 4, so a dry and dark garage, basement or root cellar is perfect.
You also don’t want the potatoes to get wet, so be sure they’re in a container away from any potential leaks, and you also want to keep any light from hitting your potatoes as it can turn the potatoes green and toxic. A good way to prevent this is by storing your potatoes in sawdust or sand which keeps them dry and dark at the same time.
A final note: don’t store your potatoes with apples or pears as they emit ethylene gas which can cause your potatoes to sprout prematurely.
As with storing any vegetable, be mindful and check your crop often. If you notice any that are starting to go, take a look at how they’re being stored, keep a thermometer and humidity gauge handy, and adjust to meet their needs. Remove any softening potatoes and use immediately. If your potatoes are starting to sprout, save them and plant them as next year’s crop. If done properly, your potato harvest should last six to eight months in storage and feed you all season long.