When is the best time to harvest potatoes? And what's the best way for storing potatoes? Keep reading and watch the video below to learn when to harvest, and how to store potatoes both in the ground or indoors.
If you've never grown potatoes before, check out this post to learn how to plant and grow potatoes (including methods for growing them in the ground or containers).
With this method, if your weather conditions are right, you can harvest your potatoes as you need them and use the ground as a “root cellar” for long-term storage. This way, you will have potatoes up until the next gardening season!
When to Harvest Potatoes
Take a look at your potato garden. Have any of the plant tops died? This is the first indication that your potatoes are ready for harvest. If you see lots of crispy dried tops, then your potatoes are probably ready for harvest.
However, you can also harvest baby potatoes, or “new potatoes” while the plant tops are still alive. Once the plant dies back, the potatoes won't continue to grow past the size they already are. But this doesn't mean you have to harvest them right away!
Use your hand or take a shovel and dig gently around the bottom of the plant to peek at the actual potato. If you don't see any potatoes by digging, you can also grasp the plant vine, then gently pull up to reveal the potatoes.
If the potatoes are ready (harvestable size), then you can take them out of the ground. If not, and the potato vine hasn't died, simply push the dirt back over to cover them and allow them to continue growing.
How do you store potatoes and how long do they last?
There are three options for storing potatoes: In a root cellar (or cool dark place), in the ground, or by preserving them.
- Root Cellar – You can harvest and store potatoes in a root cellar or a cool, dark place. It's important to keep them away from onions or they'll sprout much quicker.
- In the Ground – You can store potatoes in the ground with a few simple steps (see below) and keep them there through the winter months (even with snow).
- Preserving – You can, of course, preserve your potatoes by pressure-canning, freeze-drying, freezing, or dehydrating them.
Your potatoes, when stored properly, will last until spring.
Everything Worth Preserving
If you want to store your potatoes by preserving them, check out my book, Everything Worth Preserving, where you can find all the safe and approved recipes for preserving potatoes.
In this book, I discuss crop by crop, every way to safely preserve each one at home, including delicious recipes.
What is the best way to store potatoes at home?
As I mentioned above, if you're not going to be preserving your potatoes, you can store them inside in cold storage or in the ground. There are a couple of different steps for each of these, so be sure to read them below.
Store Potatoes Inside
Follow these steps for storing potatoes inside in a cool, dark space, or in a root cellar.
- Harvest potatoes on a warm day. Do not wash the potatoes, leave them dirty. You can brush off excess dirt, but this is not necessary.
- Cure potatoes. Curing is essential so you don't get bacteria and excess moisture in your potatoes which will cause them to spoil.
- Place potatoes on cardboard or a screen in a well-ventilated area. Ideally, in a dark space with temperatures between 50-65° F.
- Make sure they are not touching each other. They need plenty of airflow around them.
- Cure potatoes for approximately ten days, ensuring any scabs or knicks in the potato have hardened over.
- Store potatoes in a cool, dark place (or root cellar) with temperatures between 40-45° F and humidity between 85-95%.
Pro Tip: For long-term storage, make sure there is no light. 40 to 45° F is a great storing temperature. 90% humidity is ideal, even though sometimes it is hard to get this high humidity level in your home during the colder months. You can store potatoes at room temperature, they just won't last past a month or two.
Storing Potatoes in The Ground
While you can harvest and store all of your potatoes inside, there is a second option.
This ‘remain in the ground' method is a form of root cellaring without actually having a root cellar (or having to build one).
If you live in a relatively mild climate, you can simply leave the potatoes in the ground and insulate them well with straw or mulch.
A relatively mild type of climate is defined as having reasonably mild winters. This means not having too many deep frosts or massive amounts of snow (potatoes don't like the frozen ground).
The key is not to let the potatoes freeze. Instead of harvesting them all, you can insulate them with straw while they are still in the ground.
Follow these steps for storing potatoes in the ground.
- Buy straw. Look for the straw that does not have an overabundance of seed heads. Seed heads look like the pretty top of the wheat. If the straw has many of these, you risk having a wheat garden next season instead of a potato garden. I prefer not to use hay because it molds fast and has more seeds.
- Mulch. Break up the straw bale and cover the potato plants with four to six inches of straw on top.
- Your potatoes need high humidity, or they will shrivel up. The straw will help retain moisture.
- You can add more later if a frost or a big snowstorm is coming. This will give them an added layer of protection.
- Keep them well-covered. Check on your potato beds throughout the season, ensuring they're well covered. If any straw has shifted away from the bed, recover with additional straw. Exposure to light will cause them to sprout, which does not allow them to last long.
- Make sure your soil is WELL-draining. This will avoid rot. Lousy drainage and a good snow melt will surely rot your potatoes.
They can stay under this straw until the soil temperature reaches 55-60° F (this is about April for me). Then, even if they have sprouted, you can dig them up and move them.
Pro Tip: It's always a good idea to crop rotate yearly to mitigate disease issues.
How do you store potatoes so they don't sprout?
Storing potatoes correctly helps prevent them from sprouting before you have a chance to eat them.
When storing potatoes indoors, keep them in a cool, dark place and DO NOT store them near onions. Onions produce a gas that increases the sprouting factor in potatoes.
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