Storing potatoes properly is an important part of our gardening. We grow a lot of potatoes (some years over 250 pounds) so it is important that we keep those potatoes lasting as long as possible in our winter storage.
I’m going to cover a few of the basics of potato storage first and then we will talk about several different methods for storing potatoes and which will be the most successful for long term storage.
What to look for when storing potatoes
Light is the enemy of tasty potatoes. Exposure to light will cause the skins of your potatoes to turn “green”. The green is actually chlorophyll that comes from the potatoes reaction to light. The chlorophyll really isn’t the problem though, the problem is the toxin solanine. Solanine is an alkaloid that builds up in the skins of potatoes, the build up increases the longer the potatoes are exposed to light. Solanine is actually poisonous and can cause illness or in very very extreme cases death. You can of course avoid most of the solanine in a potato by cutting away the green, but solanine causes a bitter taste and should be avoided.
So the solution is to store your potatoes in complete darkness! Even low levels of light will eventually cause your potatoes to go green, so what ever option you choose for storing your potatoes it needs to be as dark as possible!!
Storing potatoes in a cool spot is the most important consideration. Potatoes will last longer if they are stored at temperatures that stay consistently between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Even a little below 40 degrees is okay, just be sure they don’t freeze. The cooler your storage spot, the longer your potatoes will go before they start to sprout.
Potatoes will last longer with higher humidity. Storing potatoes at a humidity level of 95% would be ideal. Of course that is often hard to achieve, but the more humid the better. But be careful. There is a difference between humid and wet. You don’t want your storage area (or your potatoes) to be wet, that will promote mold and rot.
You are not sealing your potatoes in a vault!! When storing potatoes be sure that where ever you are storing them in (boxes, baskets, etc.) have plenty of air circulation. If you are using cardboard boxes for storage then cut some holes in them to allow excess moisture to escape.
Storing Potatoes – Options
There are a lot of options and ideas out there for storing potatoes. I’m going to talk about a few and provide you with some links to learn more about each option. Just keep in mind that the more dark, cool and humid your storage location is the longer the potatoes will last.
A good old fashion root cellar is probably the best option for storing potatoes! With plenty of room, dark and cool they can be the perfect spot for potato storage. Rodents and other pests can be a problem in root cellars so be sure to have a plan for dealing with them.
Improvised Root Cellars
We love our window well root cellar! You can read more about it here. It’s just one of the window wells on the east side of our house that is in the shade most of the winter. It provides is great access (from the window in the basement) and is a cool spot to store all winter. Since we started using this option we have increase the storage time of our potatoes an additional 3 months!
We keep our potatoes in these plastic laundry baskets and then cover the baskets with burlap and an old sleeping bag. That keeps out the light and adds some insulation for extra cold nights.
If your home doesn’t have a basement and instead just has a crawl space this can be another great cool, dark option for an improvised root cellar. It is a bit harder to control humidity in a crawl space, but it can still be a great option.
A Cold Garage
If you have a garage that is cool (but doesn’t freeze) during the winter this can be another good option. Remember that things need to be dark, so in a garage you may need to plan on covering your potato containers with burlap or an old blanket to exclude the light.
A cool spot in your basement
For years this was the option we used. We had a cold storage area in our basement where we would store our potatoes. The biggest problem we found here was it was never really cool enough. Temperatures only got down to the low 60’s and high 50’s so our potatoes would start sprouting after only 2 or 3 months.
A garbage can buried in the garden
I’ve always thought this was a great idea. The concept is you get a large garbage can and bury it just below the surface of your garden, you put the potatoes inside put the lid on and then cover the lid with soil, or straw or even leaves.
The biggest disadvantage I see to this method is convenience. We get a lot of snow in the winter (and rain). So traipsing out to the garden several times a week really isn’t the easiest way!
Remember where and how you store your potatoes is super important. When property stored potatoes can last over 6 months in storage, giving you a great fresh vegetable option all winter long!