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Storing potatoes

September 29, 2009

I have had several questions about how in the world do we store all those potatoes and what in the world do we do with all those potatoes anyway?

First how do we utilize 500 pounds of potatoes?  I need 50 pounds for next years planting in order to realize a harvest of this size.  I give away potatoes as gifts – lets say, 100 pounds there.  That leaves me with approximately 350 pounds to last until next May or June.  I worry we will run out, it probably looks like a lot to you.  Because we strive to grow the food we need for the entire year, we see the whole years worth at one time, and it is metered out in small amounts until the stockpile is gone.  Whereas, if you shop at the farmers market or store, or belong to a CSA you see only a weeks worth or a little more.  It is hard to imagine how much food you need to last months when you only deal with a small amount at each time.  I get this question a lot when we have potential beef customers.  A common statement is, “we don’t eat more than 10 pounds of beef a year -how could we possibly eat 100 pounds?”  Usually these type of people never do buy beef from us, and they are never honest with themselves either about how much beef they eat.  Since they don’t count the multitudes of hamburgers they buy as beef.  Same with potatoes, when you purchase ready made soups and meals at the store, and the ingredient list includes potatoes, you are indeed eating potatoes.  It adds up, one potato at a time.

So how to store potatoes and make them last?  Potatoes need  high humidity, total darkness and protection from freezing.  That leaves out most modern homes, basements and garages.  Even our basement is too warm, and our house is always on the cool side.  The ideal temperature is around 45 degrees.  Any warmer the potatoes break dormancy and start to sprout – if it is much cooler than 45 degrees the starch in potatoes turns to sugar.  Not good – especially if you’re watching your waistline.   To combat the starch to sugar thing, I bring in a box of potatoes and store them in the basement.  After a few days of 50 degrees the sugar reverts to starch again.

Anyway, I store mine in the barn in “root cellar” made from stacked straw bales.  Straw bales are inexpensive, easy to find, easy to handle and this makes the root cellar temporary.  The size can be changed to fit your storage needs and the barn provides the cool, dark, high humidity storage requirements.  I wrote about it here last year.  As you can see the potatoes in the picture have been stored for 9 months and are still in good shape.

Other ways to ensure long storage, is make sure the potatoes are properly cured before digging – at least two weeks in the ground after the vines die back.  Growing without irrigation helps too.  Irrigation may give you a larger yield but all the effort and water is wasted if you have a huge yield and the potatoes will not store as well (as long) because they have been irrigated.  The potatoes must be absolutely dry when they go into storage and they do not need washing.

Potatoes are a great vegetable to always have on hand, and are fun to grow.  Hopefully this will give  you some ideas on how to store your crop, or even a large economical purchase of spuds from a grower.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2009 8:56 am

    Thanks! Now I just need a barn 🙂

  2. September 29, 2009 9:40 am

    The starch in the potatoes is converted to suger by enzymes in your mouth and small intestine, so it really doesn’t matter whether the conversion happens before you put it in your mouth. Any way you look at it, starchy foods are turned directly into sugar by your body. That’s why if you chew bread or potatoes for a few minutes before swallowing, it turns sweet, because the conversion has already begun.

    • September 29, 2009 9:57 am

      Beach Bum, that is interesting, depending on the potato variety they can be sickeningly sweet before cooking if stored in the refrigerator, sweet enough to ruin the taste of certain recipes. I guess by the time it gets to my small intestine I don’t care what it tastes like.

  3. September 29, 2009 9:43 am

    You are lucky. I’ve tried a number of ways to store potatoes and have bombed each time, too hot, too cold and never a just right. Unfortunately, a root cellar isn’t in our near future and by the first week in December we are often down to eighteen below zero Fahrenheit so, in come the potatoes. For that reason, we grow only enough to last until sometime in February and call it good.

    Since we too try to raise as much as possible what we eat, that might be why our diet has moved away from consuming very many potatoes. What I’d really like to know is why I have beautiful big potatoes but not very many per plant. I prepare a spot for them that is nice and loose but obviously it is missing something. Do you know the answer?

    • September 29, 2009 10:03 am

      Holly, yes we are lucky in that regard, it rarely gets below 10 degrees F here, and if it does it doesn’t last long.

      I grow three kinds of potatoes and only one variety puts on large tubers. The yield weighs the same per hill, whether I get 17 medium potatoes or 4 lunkers. The other two varieties never have the large ones though, only medium to small. Maybe do a test with a different type and see. Mine are all grown in the same area in medium fertility soil. None of that was much help I bet… .

      • September 29, 2009 4:06 pm

        Actually it was. After your comment, I’m wondering if I might be producing an average crop per plant after all. I guess I’m just greedy and wanted more. I’ll take your advice and try out some new varieties next year.

        • September 29, 2009 6:50 pm

          Holly, I know what you mean though – when I see a hill with a few potatoes, even if they are large I am disappointed. I did weigh some this year just to see and it was the same approximate weight. I can’t stand the little tiny ones, but depending on what I am using them for the mediums and larges are my favorites. 🙂

  4. September 29, 2009 10:18 am

    So, do you think your barn root cellar would work if your temps were to go below minus 20 degrees F? I’ve got a barn, and I’ve got bales of straw, but I’ve also got Minnesota winters.

    • September 29, 2009 10:27 am

      Jo, I think it would depend on the straw bales, maybe two bales thick on all sides and on top. It may be too, that with temps that cold, that maybe the straw could be used in a too warm area to keep things cool enough for potato storage. Just a thought. The insulating value of straw bales varies greatly with the baling method. Our straw bales are somewhat loose, but I have seen some that are so compacted that you can hardly pry the flakes apart. So lots of variables there too.

      I am also hoping Linda will chime in here too, since she lives on the Canadian prairie and stores her potatoes as well.

  5. September 29, 2009 11:21 am

    Envious of your straw bale root cellar. lol My husband won’t let me build one until we buy a house. I kind of see the point but still a root cellar sigh…

  6. peacefulacres permalink
    September 29, 2009 11:55 am

    I’m afraid the bovine girls would eat all of our potatoes if I put them in our little barn. I’ve often thought of just digging a hole and making a root cellar, but it never happens. Plus this years potatoes didn’t pan out….they were the worst seed potatoes I’ve ever gotten….I bought 50 lbs and only got 50 lbs from them….that’s stinks! It’s the greenhouse for this year…maybe a root cellar next.

    • September 29, 2009 6:53 pm

      Peacefulacres, I keep them hidden from any munchers, so I am safe there 🙂 That is a bummer on your seed potatoes – our garden saying here is “well, there is always next year…”

  7. September 29, 2009 12:41 pm

    My barn is OK with the cold but not so good with the heat. I can’t keep potatoes through the summer, so I grow non-keeper varieties in the spring and just eat potatoes like crazy before they sprout. I haven’t actually tried to grow a second crop in the fall that I could store in the fall in time for it to get colder. It hadn’t actually occurred to me to do that until now. Duh.

    I have recently discovered that wine fridges have the right humidity and temperature controls for potatoes and other root veggies (although they’re not dry enough for onions). A wine fridge is of course going to be too small
    for a year’s worth of wine cellaring, but for smaller amounts or shorter terms, and if you can find one cheap, its something to look into.

    I’m curious about growing potatoes without irrigation, that is, how you actually do that. I’m assuming there’s *some* sort of water involved. In my area we get no rain at all from April to November, and if I put dry potatoes in the dry ground that would be the last I ever saw of them.

    • September 29, 2009 7:01 pm

      Laura, that is a great idea about the wine fridge, they are great for cheese too!

      We don’t eat potatoes in the summer, it is nice to have a break after all winter of potatoes. We aren’t as dry as you, only our summer is dry from mid June through September or October. If it rains, I can’t stop that, but I don’t irrigate. Probably the biggest factor would be having a soil that has a high organic matter. Not too much nitrogen, but good compost and cover cropping between potato crops.

      On another note, our climate is perfect for storing our root crops in the ground – some CSA farms near here that are a little drier in the winter store their potatoes in the row and dig as needed through winter for their shareholders. I haven’t had good luck with that 😦

  8. Susan permalink
    September 29, 2009 1:01 pm

    How do you protect them from rodents? I would love to try straw bales, but if I put them in a feed sack or cardboard box, I’m sure my very active rodent population would be enjoying them before I got the chance. Thanks for your great blog! An amazing source of information.


    • September 29, 2009 7:13 pm

      Susan, I never have had a rodent problem with this storage method. We have barn cats and we don’t really have a lot of grain eating animals, so maybe that is why…but do you really think your rodents would eat potatoes or maybe just take a bite?

  9. September 29, 2009 4:35 pm

    Thanks for the informative post. We grew potatoes for the first time this year and then only a few fingerlings. I would also worry about the rodent problem with the straw bale cellar. I would love, love, love to have a real root cellar. I think I’ve got my hubby talked into it but it’s one of those ‘eventually’ projects. We have such lovely hills that it shouldn’t be too bad to dig into the side of one. There is a school near here (a boarding school) that tries to grow all it’s own food. I heard the director talking about their root cellar last fall. They used a septic tank (a new one) and put a door in one end. I thought that was pretty ingenious- of course, probably a more ambitious project than we would entertain.

    • September 29, 2009 7:24 pm

      Judy, the septic tank idea is a great one, although not too cheap, maybe cob would work and be less expensive and give some rodent protection. Hopefully, you will get the mice taken care of and will realize the place is under new management 🙂 A friend stores hers in plastic buckets with lids in her garage, of course her hubby has to keep the garage a certain temp for his Porsche, so the potatoes are right at home 😉 Your hills would be perfect,just the name root cellar sounds good. My hubby wants one and has some salvaged submarine doors for that purpose. But, they are still just sitting where he put them and I have seen no signs of excavation…oh well.

      I do have to say after reading The Worst Hard Time, the descriptions of the soddies with all the insects kind of gave me the willies 🙂

  10. September 30, 2009 6:24 am

    We store ours in the quonset in sacks on an deer hides (for insulation) and they’ll stay good for up to a year. Amazing because in the summer it get a bit too warm in there.

    • September 30, 2009 6:35 am

      I knew you would come to my rescue! OK for all you cold climate gardeners – here is the proof that they can be stored throughout the winter season. It’s pretty cold in Alberta!

      I never thought of deer hides – our deer are still using theirs ;)Gotta couple of Guernsey and Hereford hides though…

  11. September 30, 2009 9:23 am

    I am real tempted to do the straw bale root cellar although this year we will not need the storage space. Our cellar seems to be a bit too humid. 😦
    I question if our potatoes did not get blight as our tomatoes did. Either that or we harvested to late because they are rotting faster than we can eat them. Never had this happen before. This years harvest is not quite what we had expected.

    • October 3, 2009 9:48 pm

      Kim, that does sound like the blight got to them. Don’t plant any potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or eggplant where you planted them this year. Next year if you see any sign of blight, remove the stems and burn them, if you get to the vines fast, the spores shouldn’t get to the potatoes below, and they can cure for a couple of weeks before you dig them. Late harvest would not make any difference unless your ground was frozen and the potatoes froze. I think they probably got the blight. 😦

  12. September 30, 2009 9:27 am

    I forgot to mention… are right that people have no clue how much meat they do comsume. We have put up approx 400lbs(meat) thus far this year and people think that is a lot. Family of 4, 2-3 meals/day x 52 = a whole lot of food. School lunches are bad. I try to encourage the kids to bring a lunch. Would love to homeschool but not sure that I have the patience for that.

    • October 3, 2009 9:50 pm

      Kim, I agree when you cook from scratch it takes a lot of ingredients. It’s easier to homeschool if you start out that way – it would be hard to change 🙂

  13. September 30, 2009 12:14 pm

    If you’re doing a small amount, try a bucket or big plastic tub of slightly damp peat moss in the garage. Layer moss and potatoes, so the potatoes have a good inch or two of moss between them, and it’ll keep through winter. I kept a thermometer right next to the bucket and was ready to bring it in if the air temp got below 20, but didn’t need to, even when we had a short -15 cold snap. Obviously, this doesn’t work for 500 lb of potatoes, but it’s good for a start to get a feel for how your own storage space works.

  14. September 30, 2009 9:18 pm

    Nita, I really, really, really hope you’re working on your book. You share such a wealth of knowledge and useful information. I’ve learned as much from reading your blog as I have from dozens of books. I hope someday to get to put it all to good use. I’m working on it a little at a time. 🙂

    • October 3, 2009 9:53 pm

      AMWD, you’re so nice 🙂 In good time, you will have more gardening time. Sounds like you had a crappy gardening year in your neck of the woods. 😦

  15. Jay permalink
    November 9, 2009 6:11 pm

    Thanks for the great tips. I found this in Google search for storing potatoes, the article and your responses to the questions have helped greatly.

    What would your thoughts be on building a raised bed out of straw bales to grow potatoes in?

    Do you grow sweet potatoes and use the same straw bale storage method?

    Thanks. 🙂

    • November 9, 2009 7:26 pm

      Jay, glad I could help. I haven’t experimented much with other methods of potato growing, finding just using the soil at hand the easiest. If you do use raised beds using straw bales or something else that high, use a light hilling material or you will get tired of the lifting all that material to keep hilling the potato plants.

      I have had spotty luck with sweet potatoes, but when they did do well I stored them inside like my winter squash. They like a warmer, less humid storage than Irish potatoes.

  16. Alanna permalink
    February 12, 2015 1:32 pm

    Hi! This is the second year i’ve grown potatoes and I can’t seem to get the storage right. We’re in 6B but a very temperate climate. It can reach well over 100 here for over a week at a time in the summer as well as temperatures in the teens during the winter. We don’t naturally have a climate that works well for growing potatoes because it goes from one extreme to another VERY quickly but I have row covers to start as early as possible and have found growing to be quite easy with their assistance. However, this results in a couple hundred pounds of potatoes and no decent way to store them! My potatoes are done mid June (just before the terrible hot spells) and no where in my house stays much below 70. I don’t have a barn or a root cellar and with my garage and shed easily spiking up and above 90 I don’t have many options left. I tried storing them in a fridge (dedicated solely to the potatoes) kept at a constant 50 deg but they didn’t last much past two months. Is there another option? Could I repeat the fridge storage but cooler maybe?
    Thanks for any input!

    • February 12, 2015 1:56 pm

      Rather than early, could you start them later? Plant a few that will take you through the summer, and some later varieties that keep well. We start ours in May or June and don’t harvest until September. If I started our potatoes in March as everyone says to we wouldn’t be able to store them either, they only have so many day of storage and if the temps are consistently warm they break dormancy. Also look for potatoes that keep well, some don’t. Fedco has a great variety chart. Look for good to excellent storage rating.

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