Growing and harvesting your own potatoes has so many advantages. Firstly, you can harvest just what you need for a meal and cook them straight away. This means that your potatoes are the freshest that they could possibly be. Also, by growing them at home in your garden, you’re able to benefit from harvesting them at different times.
But, what do you do if you have harvested too many or if you need to store the last of your harvest before the winter months? Storing potatoes in the right way can mean the difference between enjoying your harvest for months or having to use up your supply quicker than you’d like. After all your hard work in growing the potatoes, the last thing you would want is to have them go to waste.
How to Harvest Early Potatoes?
Harvesting the potatoes is simple. You can dig up what you need when you need them. However, earlier varieties of potato don’t always store well, and you should eat them as soon after harvesting as possible. However, having them exposed to sunshine for a couple of days will make sure that they are the best they could be.
The second of the early crops do store for slightly longer periods but, again, these taste best when they are relatively fresh from the ground, within a couple of days or so. Storing potatoes comes into its own when we talk about maincrop potatoes. These store for longer and result in better potatoes after storage than do early varieties. Additionally, there are some varieties of potato that store better than others.
Storing Early Potatoes
Early potatoes, or ‘new’ potatoes as they’re sometimes known, store for around five days. You should keep them in a dry, dark, and cool place. They taste best when eaten just a day or two after harvesting. You can harvest early potatoes around two or three months after you plant them. This is around one or two weeks after the flowers on the plants appear. Some varieties rarely produce flowers, however. When the soil is fairly dry you can harvest your potatoes.
Before storing potatoes, you should clean them up by brushing off excess soil and letting them dry. You should not wash them before storage as they will be too damp.
Of course, given that early potatoes are best when fresh, the best way of storing any you don’t need is to leave them in the ground! You can keep early potatoes and second early potatoes in the ground for about two weeks past their optimum harvest time. The skins may harden slightly, and they may not taste quite as good, but it is a better way of storing earlies than just leaving them exposed for more than a couple of days.
Another way of storing early potatoes at home is to harvest them but then keep them in sand or spent compost. This gives the potatoes the optimum of cool, dark conditions. Spent compost means that you shouldn’t suffer from eelworm or slug damage with your crop. You can store the new potatoes for around three or four weeks like this.
Storing Main Crop Potatoes
Storing potatoes from your main crop is easier than storing early potatoes. A good potato storage container excludes light but also lets moisture escape. A hessian sack or bag is ideal for storing them, but these can be expensive. Paper bags are almost as good as hessian bags but cost a lot less. You need a dull paper bag though, not a glossy one. You may be able to grab a few for free if you try your local fish shops as they have huge potato deliveries each week and most throw the bags away afterwards.
You should only store your potatoes if they are in good condition. If you store a single damaged potato, it will infect others. The damaged potatoes are fine to eat, so eat these first and store the non-damaged ones.
You should store your potatoes in a cool place, but it should not be too cool. Stay clear of the freezer or fridge as potatoes can turn sweet in these conditions and will store for long. To store potatoes, the perfect temperature range is between 5°C and 8°C.
Most average gardeners struggle with these perfect temperatures but, as a general rule, if you don’t let the temperature get too far below 4°C, and keep them not much above that temperature, you should be ok. Garden sheds often stay around those temperatures in the autumn and winter.
Excluding the light is crucial. If you expose your potatoes to any light, they will become green and start sprouting. You can reverse this if you place green potatoes in complete darkness for a week or so. Your storage bags should exclude most light but keeping the bags in a basement or garage will help keep out additional light.
Checking in on Your Stored Potatoes
You should check your potatoes frequently. Ideally, you should turn out the bags once a month and inspect each potato. Discard any potato which looks like it is deteriorating. Generally, unless you are a gardener by trade or have a lot of time on your hands, this may be far too cumbersome to do once a month.
If you do not have much time, you should at least open each bag and smell inside straight away. Diseased or rotting potatoes are easy to sniff out. Take out a few of the potatoes from the top and check those below too. If you follow these guidelines, you should be able to enjoy your early and maincrop potatoes at their optimum in terms of readiness and taste for as long a period as possible.