Growing Potatoes:Part 3-The Harvest & Storage
Your potato plants are doing well, thriving even. You successfully avoided all the pests, have been hilling your plants up, and mulching the rows. They bloom gorgeous little purple and white flowers, signifying they are ready. Now what?
Here is where you get some choice.
Choice A is to dig up and eat fresh potatoes, as many as you can over the next few weeks depending on how many you grew. You don’t have to dig up the whole plant. You can dig up a few potatoes off the sides, but cover the roots back over to allow the remaining potatoes to keep growing. You will get bigger yields this way, a longer harvest and still be able to enjoy fresh potatoes. Boiled potatoes, tossed with butter, garlic and fresh chives are one of the simplest and most delicious side dishes. We never get tired of it. Any leftovers get fried the next morning in a bit of bacon grease for breakfast. Ack! I can taste this now.
Choice B is to dig some up and eat them, and leave the rest another two weeks in the ground. Cut the foliage off the plant, leaving just a few inches, and make sure all the potatoes are covered with dirt and let them put all the remaining nutrients into growing bigger potatoes, with a nice tough skin for either storage or eating. Baked potatoes are what I mean here. Cut open with a dab of butter, fresh chives, cheddar cheese and fresh sour cream. A meal in itself, but divine paired with one of our grass-fed beef steaks.
Choice C is to dig all your potatoes up after flowering, move them inside to racks to cure for two weeks, out of the sun. They can be used as needed, right away or stored.
Potatoes need to be stored in a dry, cool environment away from apples (The off gassing softens them quickly).
I store mine in an unheated barn in wooden crates layered between clean straw. Temperatures here rarely dip below -15 though. Red potatoes tend to not store as well as Yukon Gold, or Russet so I put those mostly on top. I also put the smaller potatoes more to the top. I have successfully stored potatoes for up to eight months this way.
If you have a very dry, extreme cold, an unheated basement or anything below the frostline would work better. Not many of us have root cellars nowadays but that is the ideal environment. There are many books available to build a root cellar, and one of my favorites is the book “ Stocking Up” by Rodale Press.
I check the potatoes often for spoilage, and if there are any getting soft, I remove those first to use. If it is a lot (although that very rarely happens) I will cook, grate and dehydrate to store in jars. These make great instant potatoes.
You can also can potatoes to make them shelf stable, and readily available. The Ball Canning book has a few different recipes to try so you can see which you prefer.
My favorite method is cold storage. We just used up the last of our storage potatoes, and I could weep. They were so flavorful, even after 6 months in storage, compared to the store bought ones I just had to purchase. I need no better argument for growing our own potatoes, than taste. The simple, humble homegrown potato gets elevated to star status on our plate every time.
Love Jenn xx