Tried and Tested Tips for Storing Potatoes Successfully

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Potatoes stored in a burlap bag

These days potato storage is a hot topic in conversations among vegetable gardeners, coming soon after “What kind of fertilizer do you use?” As with the answer to the fertilizer question, potato storage quickly gets into complicated territory. The ideal conditions for stored potatoes mimic conditions underground – temperatures from 45 to 55°F (7 to 13°C), with high humidity and some circulation of air. These cave-like conditions are not common in comfortable homes.

The refrigerator is out, because temperatures below 40°F (4°C) trigger the conversion of starches to sugars in the stored spuds, which makes them darken when cooked. Even worse, what old timers called “sugared potatoes” form carcinogenic compounds when cooked at high temperatures. Let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s assume that your potatoes have been gently harvested and cured, and now you need a place to put them that’s cool, dark, and safe from critters. After reading through the ideas below, you may find that you have more potato storage options than you think.

“Storing
Storing potatoes in a crate lined with straw

Root Cellars and Basements

If you have a root cellar or unheated basement, storing potatoes is easy because earthen walls stabilize temperatures in exactly the range potatoes prefer. Underground spaces also tend to be quite humid, a mixed blessing for stored potatoes. Damp air that doesn’t move can contribute to yucky molds, but a small fan that keeps the air moving can prevent this problem.

Potato storage containers can range from cardboard boxes to special potato baskets lined with burlap. Containers that permit some air movement are ideal, for example baskets or crates with open slats. For storing small amounts of potatoes in the basement, one of my favorite containers is a small laundry basket lined with newspapers, topped with a heavy towel to exclude light. I also like using an old wood crate lined with straw, with more straw added between layers of potatoes. Mice like it, too so I must be careful.

A small chest of drawers kept in the basement is great for potatoes, too, though the drawers must be kept cracked open to admit fresh air.

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Indoor Potato Storage

When I lived in a warm climate where basements were rare, stored potatoes did best indoors, where it was air conditioned, at least until the weather got cold enough to use an unheated garage. I once used the floor of the coat closet, which stayed cool because it was on the house’s shady north side. There I copied a friend’s system, in which she sorted her potatoes into paper bags by type and size, arranged the bags in plastic milk crates, and covered them with a cloth.

In another house, the bedroom was the coolest room, so I started storing potatoes in boxes or bins under the bed. I still do this when summer weather makes the basement stuffy and hot. Instead of closing up the boxes or bins, I cover the potatoes with a thick towel, which provides them with a pleasing air supply. A neighbor is more organized. She places her ‘Yukon Golds’ and other smallish potatoes in egg cartons before hiding them under her bed.

In warm climates without dependable air conditioning like rural Kenya, packing potatoes in damp sawdust has been found to extend their storage life. In Alaska, where the challenges are keeping stored potatoes from freezing or being discovered by bears, enterprising homesteaders might dig a “cold hole” for food storage, a refinement of an older practice of using a deep cave or stone-lined water well to store potatoes and other root crops.

I have often used deep holes dug in the garden for temporary potato storage, but it is not a long-term solution because the potatoes tend to develop skin issues that are rare when potatoes are kept in dry storage. I tried storing potatoes in a buried garbage can, which should have worked but did not. The potatoes inside stayed too damp and went gooey, which could have been due to many factors, including my own mistakes.

“Potato

Specialized Refrigeration

The best plug-in device for maintaining the ideal potato storage temperature of 45°F (7°C) is a beverage cooler, of which there are several small models that might be useful if you are critically low on cold storage space. You also can use a wine cooler set at its lowest setting, which is usually around 52°F (11°C).

These specialty coolers can extend the storage life of potatoes, or you can use them for carrots, beets, apples, or pears. With consumption of sugary drinks on the decline, maybe we should start calling them produce coolers.

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Comments

 
"I have found a great say to store potatoes. After digging them up do no more than brush excess mud, once dried, and then put them in a hessian sack with dry hay (which I make from long grass on the allotment, so don't buy it) and hang in a wooden shed. They are good to eat until chitting begins next spring. The hay seems to deter any rot, even where potatoes have been accidently cut on lifting."
jill on Sunday 18 August 2019
"good work it has helped me in my research"
owamani brian on Friday 13 September 2019
"Your personal experience storing potatoes is suspect. NO air conditioned home has a space that is 50F or lower. AND it's doubtful under your bed or in your coat closet with all those moisture absorbing textiles would be humid enough to store potatoes. You really haven't stored potatoes long term have you? Your article is obviously an amalgamation of internet lore."
Just Me on Saturday 2 November 2019
"No need to be unkind, Just Me. Sounds like you might know something about storaging potatoes. Do you have any helpful tips to share?"
Karen Mary on Monday 11 November 2019
"*storing*"
Karen Mary on Monday 11 November 2019
"Thanks so much for your article! Our crawl space stays right at 50 degrees and is quite humid. We use 1/2 in wire over top of old dresser drawers to keep mice out :)"
Elizabeth Sweet on Sunday 29 March 2020
"first time potato grower, and no nothing about curing , I harvested my yokon golds and they look fine, but I have them in my kitchen and they are green with some dark spot, not sure what to do "
Phyllis WILLIAMS-LANE on Tuesday 1 June 2021
"My advice is to regularly buy potatoes in small quantities from the supermarket and there is no need to store them. I've tried various methods to store them and they don't work. I believe many people post what they have read elsewhere without any personal experience."
Murray on Monday 14 June 2021
"After digging, I wash the dirt off with garden hose. I then lay the potatoes out on the deck to air dry the water on the outer skin for a few hours. Then I move them to the garage floor and cover the windows completely to block out all light. I leave them there for a month and than sort by damaged/undamaged and store in cardboard boxes on the floor of the garage for the winter. The boxes (6-8) are packed closely together and covered with an old sleeping bag. I then erect a small "tent" over them with a tarp and sticks so that a lamp or two with 60 watt bulbs can be used to keep them from freezing when the temperature in the garage drops close to freezing. I monitor the temperature through the winter and only turn the lamps on when needed. For years I've been able to successfully store 200 lb. of potatoes until planting time in spring and don't get any sprouting until at least May when it's time to plant. The winter temperatures range from -10 to -20 C here."
Randy Whelen on Monday 16 August 2021
"I live in the north. The way I handle my potatoes. harvest, leave them in the sun for couple hours to dry, lay them on a table in my shop and cover them with a thick/dark blanket to keep the sun off of them. I let them cure and heal there for a couple weeks or a month. Then if the fall is still warm they go in a burlap sac and into an old fridge set at it's lowest setting( about 10C). Once winter comes and there becomes a risk they will freeze I move them into my attached garage just on the floor and still covered (to block out light ) They will happily last until spring and the uneaten ones sprout and get replanted."
Gotrek on Sunday 22 August 2021
"I meant the fridge on it's Warmest setting... It's an old 50's fridgidaire/appt. sized fridge. I'm sure it's not very efficient. But it's what we have. I used to use an old garbage can dug into the ground so it's an upgrade :) The garbage can worked better probably but it was a pain to insulate and lift the insulation every time I wanted potatoes. And also we outgrew it very quickly."
Gotrek on Sunday 22 August 2021

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