Potatoes are a staple crop for many gardeners. But how do you store potatoes so you can keep them and use them over the winter months?
To store potatoes so they last for months, you need to make sure that you choose the right potato variety or varieties. Some potatoes will store well, others not as successfully.
If you choose the right variety or varieties, you are far more likely to be able to store them over a longer period of time.
Another important thing is quality control. Once you harvest your maincrop potatoes, you should take a good look at each tuber to make sure you do not store any which are blemished or likely to rot in storage.
Choose only whole, healthy tubers to store, so you do not introduce pests or disease, and so the potatoes you choose can last for as long as possible.
Something to remember is that if you decide to store whole, uncooked potatoes for any length of time, in traditional storage, these should be cured before they are stored.
This simply means leaving them for a certain length of time to dry out, and for the skins to thicken and harden up.
Potatoes that have been cured will typically be better for storing for longer periods. Do not wash potatoes to be stored in a traditional way until you are ready to use them.
Store Potatoes in the Ground (In a ‘Potato Grave’ / ‘Potato Clamp’)
Many old-time gardeners and allotment holders keep their potatoes so they last for months by simply piling them into a hole in the ground, which is often insulated with straw or dried leaves and soil to keep it cool yet frost-free.
To build a potato clamp, dig a hole in the soil around 10-15cm deep, wide enough to accommodate the number of potatoes which are to be stored.
Line the hole with straw or dried leaves and place the potatoes in a pyramid shape on top, with potatoes no more than 50cm or so above the ground.
Place more straw or dried leaves over the top of the pile. Then mound over the whole pile with soil at least 15cm or so deep, scooped from a spade depth trench around the clamp. Leave a hole at the top, to provide ventilation, plugging the gap with straw or dried leaves.
This structure should keep potatoes edible throughout the winter months. However, the common problem is that pests like slugs or rodents may find the stash.
Traditional Storage in a Pantry / Root Cellar
Another traditional way to store potatoes is, of course, in a pantry, or root cellar. This is by far the best option if you have a suitable space.
Any cool and humid space can be ideal for potato storage. So if you do not have a dedicated root cellar or pantry then you can also consider storing potatoes in a garage, shed, or other cool, insulated yet unheated space.
You should never store raw potatoes in the fridge, since the chilly temperatures will turn the starch into sugars and alter their taste and texture.
The ideal temperatures for potato storage are between 7-10°C.
The storage space should have reasonably good ventilation. You should always make sure that the potatoes are stored in a breathable container – such as cardboard boxes, baskets or crates – and not in plastic.
You should also make sure that you keep potatoes away from onions, since keeping onions and potatoes in store together can cause both to go bad more quickly.
Come spring, stored potatoes are likely to start to sprout. But if you store them in the right conditions then they should be good to eat right through the winter months.
If you cannot store potatoes in the right conditions through the winter months, or wish to store potatoes you’ve grown earlier in the year, then you will likely have to cook your potatoes before storage to keep them for any length of time.
One way to store potatoes so they last for months is to skin, boil and can them. You will however need to have some specialist equipment in order to do so.
You will need a pressure canner and canning jars. A pressure canner is essential for canning low-acid vegetables which cannot be canned or bottled using a water bath canner.
Potatoes can safely be pressure canned in chunks of around ½ inch, or small potatoes 1-2 inches in size can be canned whole.
Boil chunks for 2 minutes, or whole potatoes for around 10. Add to the canning jars, leaving 1 inch headspace, and cover with a canning brine.
Then process in the pressure canner.
Process at 10lbs (weighted gauge) or 11 lbs (dial gauge) (below 1000 ft). Be sure to adjust pressure accordingly based on your altitude.
Process pint jars for 35 minutes, and quart jars for 40 minutes.
If you own a pressure canner, the good thing is that you can use this process to store potatoes for a much longer period of time. So this can be a good option to consider if you cannot store in a cool and humid location, or if you want to store potatoes beyond the end of the winter months.
Home pressure canned potatoes will typically last 1 year to 18 months when the proper procedure is followed and the canned potatoes are subsequently stored correctly.
Cooked potatoes (cooked in a range of different ways) can also be stored for around a year in your freezer.
Raw potatoes should never be frozen because the high water content in raw potatoes means that they turn mushy when defrosted and their texture and taste are ruined.
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.