How to Store Potatoes–The Pine Shavings Method
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Potatoes have become one of the most rewarding harvests of our garden. Not only is the harvest abundant, but digging potatoes up is fun for the whole family! There are many different methods for storing potatoes, including: stacking them in a tower, using newspaper-lined laundry baskets, and burying them in the soil–this article covers method my family uses wood shavings. To read about other methods for storing your potato harvest, visit these articles by University of Idaho Extension and Barbara Pleasant, both that outline different options.
We choose to keep our potatoes in our basement because it’s the coolest place in our house, temperature wise, and gets minimal light. We live in 800 square feet, so space is tight! This year, we utilized the boxes that reams of paper come in and pine flake shavings we have on hand for our chickens. These items were readily available when the potatoes needed to be stored – necessity being the mother of invention that it is! I had dreamed of pretty wooden boxes and had envisioned using sand, but time got away from me this summer and I needed to work with what I had. If you don’t have chickens, you can pick up a bag of shavings at most feed stores.
Step One~Drying Out
After harvesting potatoes, leave them in a well-ventilated spot out of the sun to dry out. I leave them in our garden cart covered in a cart. You could also put them in a shady spot outside or even inside your house. The most important thing to remember during this time is that potatoes need to stay out of the sunlight. Potatoes exposed to sunlight tend to get green skin–something that can be slightly toxic when eaten. To learn more about this occurrence, check out the article on the National Gardening Association’s Learning Library.
After the potatoes have dried off a bit, brush as much of the dirt off as possible. Not only does this save time when washing before using the potato, but it enables you to see any imperfections the potato may have. I noticed the first time I harvested potatoes that I had gouged a couple with the tines of my pitchfork. These potatoes needed to be eaten sooner rather than later. It also gives you a chance to see if there is any damage from pests–I lost a couple from worms this year.
My chosen brush is a soft brush from my horseback riding days. It’s important to use something that won’t scratch the skin of the potato. My daughter has had success using an old rag that we had, too. Just be sure you don’t wash the potato before storage–it’s hard to get them really dry afterwards and it lowers the quality of the potato.
The next step after this is the curing period. Curing your potatoes allows the skin to toughen up and prepares them for longer storage. The curing period should be anywhere from 7-14 days. I did my potatoes in three harvests and cured for about 10 days in between harvests. You want a cool, dark place to cure your potatoes. Air flow is another factor you want to consider–the skin of the potatoes needs to breathe to fully cure.
We happen to have some of the plastic storage shelves in our basement that have the slotted shelves. I cleared off one of the shelves and use that as my curing rack. This particular harvest was pretty big and I ended up needing to rotate some of the potatoes, as they were all stacked up. If you don’t have the option of slotted shelving or something that is conducive to airflow, be sure to rotate the potatoes every couple of days throughout the curing process to make sure the entire skin is exposed to air. When I’m not photographing pictures of my potatoes curing, I drape a thin sheet over to block out as much light as possible. Our basement has one small window in it, so not much light gets in.
Once your potatoes have fully cured, it’s time to pack them up for storage! As I said, I had dreams of pretty slatted wooden boxes, but summertime got away from me and all I had on hand were paper boxes and shavings from our chickens.
Start by putting a thin layer of shavings down. Next, layer the potatoes in–make sure to leave a little space in between each potato for air flow! Put another thin layer of shavings, then more potatoes, repeating the process until the box is full. Set them in a cool, dark spot for winter storage! The ideal temperature is between 50-60* Fahrenheit–any cooler and you risk the potatoes freezing, any warmer and the potatoes could start sprouting quicker! Be mindful to check on your potatoes throughout their storage life. Any that are sprouting or starting to get squishy need to be removed immediately.