Curing potatoes before winter storage is an important process that will help assure longer storing times for your potato crop.
Potatoes are a super important garden crop around our place. They provide us with a fresh vegetable source for a big part of the winter months. We store our potatoes for the winter in a makeshift root cellar that we put together in a window well on the east side of our house. This root cellar provides a nice cool spot for our potatoes to sit in all winter. But before we put them away for the winter, curing potatoes for a week or so first is very important.
How do you cure potatoes?
Curing potatoes is really pretty easy. You simply spread your potatoes out on some surface for about a week to 10 days. We usually just spread our potatoes out on a big table in our garage. After they have sat for about 5 days I go out and turn them so that both sides of the potato dry well. There are a few things that are important to remember when you are curing potatoes:
Air flow is important
Try to lay the potatoes out flat in one layer, don’t pile them on top of each other, give them a little room to breath.
The cooler the better
Ideal temperatures for curing potatoes would be 65 or below, in the fall that is often pretty hard to accomplish. But do your best to let them sit somewhere as cool as possible.
Some where dark is essential!
Light especially direct sunlight is the enemy of potatoes. Light causes the skins of your potatoes to turn green. Green skins on potatoes taste terrible and are mildly poisonous. It’s important while curing potatoes to do it somewhere as dark as possible. A little light for a few days isn’t going to ruin your potatoes, but it is very important that you keep them out of direct sunlight and as dark as possible. So we like a nice dark garage with any windows covered.
I also like to cover the potatoes while they are curing with a light blanket or in this case a piece of fabric row cover. This helps keep the potatoes in the dark, to keep them from going green.
Why is it so important to cure your potatoes before storing them?
Curing potatoes accomplishes several things
The first and most important thing is, curing potatoes for about 10 days allows the skins of the potatoes to harden or toughen. This hardened skin will help the potatoes store for months!
Dries of all wet spots
Moisture is the enemy of any long storing food. Allowing your potatoes to sit out for 10 days assures that all of the potatoes are dry before you put them away.
Curing allows damaged spots to heal
Potatoes have the amazing ability to heal damaged spots. Much of the minor damage done to the skins of potatoes while harvesting will heal if the potatoes are left out and exposed to the open air for 10 days. This assures that those damaged spots don’t become “bad” spots that will end up rotting.
Curing potatoes forces you to handle your potatoes
Having to set all the potatoes out on a table, turn them, and eventually clean them off, forces you to handle all of your potatoes. This way you are able to inspect them for rotten spots or damage that may become future rottenness. You can then pull these bad potatoes out and keep them from being placed in with the good potatoes where the rot might spread.
Bad potatoes show up quickly
Another nice benefit of curing is that bad potatoes show up quickly. You are able to spot rotten spots or even softer potatoes that just aren’t going to store long.
Allows you to sort by size (and type)
Setting all these potatoes out also allows you to sort them by size and variety. Some varieties of potatoes store longer than others. Russets potatoes last longer in storage than reds so if they are sorted by type you can use the shorter storing types first.
It is also super handy to sort by size. I sort by small, medium and large. Small potatoes are a pain to peel and are better used for roasting and in soups where the peels can be left on. Medium potatoes are perfect for casseroles and for mashing. Larger potatoes are the best for baking. By having them sorted by size it makes them easier to use during the winter.
I’ve also found that having all the smaller potatoes in one spot makes us see them and think about using them, because they always seem to be the ones we put off using.
Putting your potatoes away in storage
Once your potatoes have sat for about 10 days take a little time to inspect and do a rough clean of your potatoes. I handle each and every one of my potatoes. Use a pair of gloves and handle each one. Rub off as much of the left over dirt as you can (being careful not to damage the skins). This will make them easier to clean in the sink when it’s time to cook them.
I also look for soft spots, unhealed damage and rottenness. Any potatoes with these types of problems I bring inside and store in the fridge until they can be used up. Also look for potatoes that are overall soft, these too won’t store as long so I also pull them out to be used up quickly.
I’m planning a separate post on storing potatoes. (When that post is live you will find it here). When storing keep in mind that potatoes need to be stored somewhere dark, dry and very cool! That is why root cellars are so ideal for long term storage of potatoes.