October 6, 2010

Ups & Downs (Mostly Downs) of Storing Potatoes

On the last day of September, I sorted through my 2 bins of summer harvested potatoes. Some were going bad, and almost all were sprouting. I wasn't surprised about this and actually expected it for two reasons: the time of year we planted them, and the storage conditions they had to endure this year.

A spring planting yields a summer harvest. What we really need, if we want to store potatoes successfully, is a summer planting for a fall harvest. We planted ours (Red Pontiacs) during the first week of April.  I would have liked to have planted later, but they came with my spring seed order and by that time, they were all beginning to sprout. So into the ground they went.

We harvested them the last week of July, after all the tops had died back. That was about 16 weeks from planting. We did get a good harvest, about 120 pounds from 9 pounds planted. But here I am, two months later, with a big batch of sprouting potatoes.

Besides the time of year they were planted, the other problem is how/where I had to store them. This has been the summer of mid to upper 90s every day, and with no way to keep those taters cool. According to Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel, potatoes store best in a cold, moist environment. They recommend 36 to 40° F, with a relative humidity going on 90%. For me, that means refrigeration during the summer, though my unheated pantry should do well for winter storage.

I did plant some of this harvest during the first week of August, in hopes of some fall potatoes. Unfortunately none of these grew, but I do have some healthy volunteers growing in the original potato patch, smack dab in the middle of my fall garden. These are just starting to flower, and with first frost expected sometime this month, I'm not sure what we'll get. Even so, I'll be happy with anything they produce.

Counting back 16 weeks from when we'd like to harvest (around Oct. 1st), I need to do my storage potato planting during the first half of June for an autumn harvest. I'm doubting any of this harvest will make it until then, so I probably need to plan on a late order for seed potatoes.

I figure can still have a small patch for summer potatoes, but the bulk of them I'd like to keep for storage.

In the meantime, I've transferred the remaining good potatoes to my extra fridge (kept in the pantry for just such purposes.) Hopefully they'll do better there.

Ups & Downs (Mostly Downs) of Storing Potatoes © October 2010 by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/


Theresa said...

Oh my, that looks like a lot of potatoes! I have trouble just keeping them good in the small amounts I buy, but then of course, I'm not really trying. I do best if I just buy what I planned to use for a particular meal.
BTW, love Dan's hawk frightening Scare Crow!

Anonymous said...

Too bad about the potatoes. Have you thought about drying some? Interesting about the hawks (previous post) - I am seeing more around here at this time of year also.

The Mom said...

I have a ton of potatoes too. The thing is, that I just dug them. I may be completely crazy, but an old timer told me they're fine in the ground until it freezes. Also, the longer they stay there, the longer they keep. It has been a wonderful, lazy way to deal with the potatoes. I started digging in late September and still have one more bed to go if it ever stops raining.

Michelle said...

I haven't had enough luck growing potatoes to even worry about storage, but I do remember how my parents stored them when I was growing up. We lived in a trailer that was really high off the ground on the back corner, like, four feet. My daddy covered the ground under the trailer with straw and we spread the potatoes in a single layer over the straw, then added another layer of straw, another layer of potatoes, etc. finishing with a layer of straw on top. This worked very well for them. Maybe one could recreate this environment using straw bales for walls and laying boards on top with more straw bales, and a tarp to shed water?

Renee Nefe said...

I've heard the same info that The Mom said about just leaving root crops in the ground. Another thing I've heard is storing them in sand in the frig (that was for carrots, probably the same for potatoes) I've tried keeping my carrots in the ground and they do well if they haven't broke the surface and would do better if I put more something over them.

And when I lived in LA (state) we would store the potatoes under the raised house with straw & lime. The lime was probably to keep the critters from helping themselves as the deer there were good scavengers.

What I need is a way to buy potatoes that don't go bad before I use them here. The last bag I bought the entire thing rotted before I used any. Really disappointing. I noticed yesterday at the grocery store that one bag of potatoes for sale was about to go bad...so they're having issues with the supplier.

Leigh said...

Theresa, I'm hoping to get their storage requirements figured out and satisfied. One thing I'm learning about having a food storage, is that oftentimes, things are eaten past their grocery store peak. Still good, still tasty and nutritious, but not so perfect anymore.

Evelyn, no, I never have thought about drying them. Something to think about. I have thought about making and canning potato soup. Although for the moment, except for just beginning to sprout, they're still pretty good. I just have to cut the sprouts out.

Heather, well, that's perfect. In fact, that's what I'm aiming for next year. I've read that, about storing them in the ground until it freezes. In fact that's how I stored last year's turnips and carrots, in the ground. If I get my fall crop next year, I'll give it a try with my potatoes. Still, I'd like to get my root storage down indoors too.

Michelle, thanks for sharing that! Sounds like a very do-able arrangement. I've read about several ways to store them outside. We've thought about a root cellar some day, but things like your daddy's idea sound so much easier.

Renee, that's one of the attractions of a fall crop of potatoes, being able to store them in the ground. I needed the spring potato patch for my fall garden, so out they came. The ones we didn't find have sprouted and are growing! They're beginning to flower, so I should have a small harvest of fresh potatoes soon.

Blue bird said...

In the old country in Europe, where I was coming from the winter storage was very important. There was a deep celler ( basement) under the house which was cool, humid, but never frost.
Every vegetables were stored there in a little sand.
Cooking a meal: go to the basment and bring up the vegies all winter.
Julia/Bluebird :)

Benita said...

I take it that a root cellar is not in the near future plans. One of our outbuildings had a cellar under it and we stored our potatoes and canned goods there. Also, I remember digging potatoes in the fall, so you're right about digging them later in the year.

Leigh said...

Julia, oh how I wish we had a basement. It would be perfect for storage and make it so much easier to work on the wiring and plumbing under the house. Really, the old ways are often the best ways.

Benita, the root cellar hasn't been decided on, really. I have a nice pantry for canned goods, and I think if I'd gotten a fall harvest of potatoes, I'd have done better there because we'll keep it unheated. I've read about storing root veggies in straw lined trenches in one's garden, and here, our ground doesn't freeze very deep so had no trouble leaving mulched carrots, turnips, and beets in the ground last winter. There are some definite pluses to a root cellar though, so we may end up with one sooner or later.

Robin said...

We have our potatoes in the barn and in the house. I should go do a check on the potatoes in the barn and see if they are still okay. It's been so cool over here that they probably aren't sprouting yet. I know that Lee wants to get a place set up for food storage too down the line.

farmwifetwo said...

I would leave them in the ground. Mine went in mid-May and I just dug the last on Friday. Granted, my garden is well drained and sandier than most, but it is something to consider.

Leigh said...

Robin, there seem to be lots of ways to store food, but it is nice to have a central location for most of it. Those root crops certainly do need to be checked frequently!

Farmwifetwo, I probably would have opted for that if we had planted for a fall crop. As it was, I needed the space for my fall garden. Even so, we missed quite a few, and these have all sprouted and are now flowering. I should get a small harvest of fall potatoes!