Once our potatoes are out of the ground we like to take them inside our garage and lay them out on our makeshift table to dry. Of course it would be even better if you could set them on some kind of screen to improve the air circulation, but we simply grow way too many for that so we spread them out on this large plywood table.
I usually let them sit for a couple of days; this allows the dirt to dry and any damage done to the potatoes when digging to start healing.
The next step is to clean the potatoes off and grade them. I use to spray them all off good with water but that adds to the amount of time it takes for them to cure and I like to get them out of the light as quickly as I can. So now we just put on a pair of work gloves and gently rub all the dirt off with our hands. This also gives us a chance to look at each potato and grade it. Any damage to the skins resulting from either your digging or natural causes qualifies the potato for the eat quickly pile. You should only save the most perfect potatoes for long term storage. All the others should go in the fridge to be eaten in the next couple of months.
We have also found that smaller potatoes don’t last as long in storage as the larges ones. So we also sort them by size, small, medium and large. The small potatoes also go in the fridge to be used up quickly in soups and as roasted potatoes. The medium potatoes are used for mashing and casseroles, the largest are saved for baking.
The best place to store potatoes would be in a root cellar. Potatoes like temperatures below 40 but above freezing so a root cellar is ideal. But most of us don’t have that option. We usually put our long term storage potatoes in the coolest spot in our basement, if you have a crawl space you could store them there as well just be sure they are protected from rodents. I have friends that keep there potatoes in a bin in their garage and they keep all winter. The main point is to keep them as cool as possible without freezing them. As space opens up in our fridge we will usually move as many there as we can.
My mom use to can potatoes. She would cut them into cubes and can them in quart sized jars with the skins still on them. They are actually very tasty that way but it is a lot of work. If you are going to try that you will need to be sure and buy a current copy of a caning book like the “Ball Blue Book.” They also must be processed using a pressure cooker.
As you can see by the pictures we grew a lot of potatoes this year. As of this writing we have 160 lbs with a few more still in the ground covered by pumpkin vines that we didn’t want to disturb with the digging. We really hope we can keep them good well into the early spring. We chose to grow two varieties this year, a brown russet and red Pontiac. The russets are primarily for baking; we use the Red Pontiac for everything else and love them!
Potatoes are a great addition to any garden and are a must if you are really trying to provide the bulk of your families’ vegetable needs from your backyard farm. You hear this all the time from gardeners, but I’ll say it any way: garden grown potatoes are far superior in taste to any commercially grown potatoes. This coming from someone who grew up in the heart of potato country in Southern Idaho. You just can’t beat the taste or variety that you can get from your garden.
I read somewhere that in the U.S. there are only 5 varieties of potatoes grown commercially. Compare that to the well over 100 types you can get to grow in your garden. It really is worth the space to grow some potatoes. So as you make your garden plans this winter be sure to include at least a couple of potato varieties.