You have just bought some potatoes or have just harvested your homegrown potatoes. Great! Now, you’re thinking of storing them for several months. Sure, they can last that long but you have to store them properly. This is why this article gives important tips on how best to store your potatoes. First of all, here are a few interesting facts about potatoes that you should know.
- Potatoes are quite easy to grow and do not require much chemicals and fertilizer.
- They were said to have been grown on space shuttle Columbia in 1995.
- The largest potato reported on Guinness World Records weighs more than 18 pounds.
- Potatoes are made of 80% water.
That being said, let’s now talk about the steps required in storing potatoes. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the real issue.
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1. Start by separating the bad potatoes from the good ones
A bad potato can cause the other potatoes to go bad fast so, you should remove the damaged ones first. Unfortunately, no matter how many of them you have, you’ll have to separate them manually because it involves the inspection of every single potato. The badly damaged ones can be discarded but you can still use the ones with minimal damage or sprouts after cutting the sprouts off.
2. Cure the potatoes
Curing your potatoes will extend their shelf life so you should cure them especially if they are homegrown ones. This process involves storing your potatoes in moderately high temperature for about 2 weeks. The best temperature level for curing is about 65°F (18°C) and humidity level should be about 85-95%. Now, you’re probably wondering how to pull the stunt. Don’t worry, you’re covered. Here is how to go about it.
You can cure them in an empty oven or a small dark closet but the former is more advisable. Leave the oven slightly ajar and place a bowl of water in it. The bowl of water is meant for humidity. There should also be a source of heat. A 40-watt bulb should take care of that. So, that means there must be a bowl of water and a lit bulb in the oven and it should be left slightly ajar.
You’re already wondering why you need to go through all these. Unfortunately, it is necessary. Curing helps to thicken the skin of your potatoes and also heal them of minor damages or injuries. Thickening their skin will reduce their chances of sprouting green shoots and rotting during storage.
3. Store them in a cool dry place
After curing them, you may be tempted to wash off the dirt on their body because they usually appear dirty. As nice as the idea sounds, it’ll be counterproductive to your potatoes. Moisture facilitates the growth of bacteria and that leads to rotting. So, leave your potatoes super-dry until when you intend to use them.
Store them in a cool dry and well-ventilated place devoid of light. Potatoes last longer than many fruits and vegetables but they also decay faster in unfavorable conditions because they breathe and they live. So, they also grow under favorable circumstances. So, the idea is to prevent them from decaying and also prevent them from growing. Striking a good balance is where the real difficulty lies. Nevertheless, the prize is worth the sweat. You want to preserve your potatoes for several months, isn’t it? Then, you’ve got to make the sacrifice.
You need to store your potatoes at a temperature that is between 35°F and 52°F. Some people will tell you that the best temperature should be about 35°F- 45°F while others put the figures at 345°F-52°F but since you can’t say any of them is wrong, you’re better off merging the brackets.
You should also ensure that there’s no light penetrating your storage location. Remember that potatoes live. Like all other plants, having access to sunlight will only facilitate their growths and eventually make them useless to you. Ensure the humidity level is also low. People have suggested dark rooms, cellars, basements, and garages since these are the places that are likely to exhibit the conditions listed above.
So, do you just pack them on the floor there? Yes and no. Yes, because pouring them on the ground isn’t such a bad idea and no, because they’ll even last longer when you put them in a mesh bag, a basket, a well-perforated plastic bag, or a cardboard box. A paper bag isn’t a bad idea for your potatoes too. One more thing – There should be proper ventilation. Wherever you decide to put them must have adequate ventilation. They can’t stand too much heat.
Basements or cellars
These places are okay if you have any of them at home because their walls help to stabilize the temperatures therein in the range that is suitable for potatoes. You can place them in cardboard boxes, crates, or baskets.
In places where there are no cellars or basements, potatoes can be stored indoors. You can even put them in an air-conditioned room when the weather is warmer. Here is where you can improvise based on the prevailing weather conditions. In the hot day of summer, even the basement may not be conducive for potatoes.
Some people store theirs in different paper bags while others store theirs in plastic milk crates. You can also store yours in bins or boxes placed in your coolest room but instead of covering the bins with their covers, you should cover them with thick cloth because that will allow air to pass through. In places like Alaska, harsh weather is not the only threat to the safety of potatoes. Bears are also a threat to them. So, some people dig cold holes and place their potatoes in those holes.
Storage in beverage coolers
You can also store them in beverage coolers. You only need to set it to its lowest temperature which is about around 52°F, the best temperature for them.
4. Inspect them regularly
Even if you store them properly, there’s still a good chance that one or more of them can still go bad over the months. Unfortunately, when one of them begins to rot, it will affect others and if care is not taken, more than half of them will get rotten. So, you need to inspect them for pest damage, mold, sprouts, diseases and soft spots at least twice a week.
You also need to divide them into batches. You know why? This will allow air to infiltrate through them more easily. If you pack them together too tightly, some of them will shield the others from fresh air.
5. Some varieties last longer than others – opt for them
Some varieties of potatoes are tougher and can last longer than others. If you plan to grow potatoes, you may need to go for the tougher ones. They store well and they’re resistant to harsh weather conditions. Cultivars score high in long-term storage. Some great varieties of Cultivars are Red Gold, Defender, Cal White, and several varieties of Russet. However, these are not the only tough varieties. There are more.
6. Commercial potato storage techniques
The types of storage discussed briefly above are meant for small quantities of potatoes. Now, it’s time to discuss the most common and effective storage techniques used by farmers. Farmers have to store their potatoes until they are sold. They also have to minimize their losses on it. So, here are the techniques used. You can adopt any of them too:
- Artificially refrigerated storage house
- Aroostook type of storage house
- Insulated wooden structure
- Potato-storage cellar
Artificially refrigerated storage house
You can construct an artificially refrigerated storage house for your potatoes. The number of bags of potatoes that you intend to store will determine how big the warehouse will be. You can now design a cooling system for the house. Most importantly, the system should be designed in such a way that you can control its temperature settings.
Aroostook type of storage house
This type of storage house is found in only Maine. So, it is believed that it is an exclusive preserve of only Maine farmers. However, you can adopt it if you like the idea. It is a wooden structure with concrete basement walls. It is often located on the side of a hill. This is to make room for ground-level entrance. The structure often has rear entrance apart from the front one. With their characteristics, the condition in this type of storage house is always favorable for potato storage.
Insulated wooden structure
This is meant for storing potatoes and other tubers that do not store well during the extreme winter cold. Its windows, doors, ceiling, and walls are usually well insulated. The structure also contains a heating system that will be used to raise the temperature of the place, should it drop below the favorable threshold.
The storage cellar is also called the dugout. This type of storage is common within the western and central parts of the United States. It involves excavation of about 3 to 5 feet depth and the soil excavated is used for banking the side and end walls. While this is a good storage technique, it has a major drawback. There’s a risk of cave-in whenever it rains.
When you hear the term pitting, what comes to your mind is that a very deep pit will be dug for storage, right? It’s not fully correct. A pit will be dug quite alright but it won’t exceed 3 feet in depth. So, the term pitting is quite misleading. The depth and width will depend on the weather condition and the number of potatoes you intend to store in them.
When the weather is hot, the pit will be very shallow. Its depth may not be more than 6 inches but in a colder atmosphere, the pit will be broader and deeper. It is not advisable to pack all your potatoes in one pit because of the possibility of a disease outbreak. When such happens, it is likely to affect all the potatoes in the pit. That’ll be a great loss if you pack all your potatoes in one pit.
Straws are used to cover the potatoes to shield them from light and still allow heat and moisture from respiration and transpiration to pass outside. Most importantly, it allows fresh air to pass through it too. However, this storage style has its shortcoming too. Potatoes stored with this technique are not accessible during the winter.
Tips on how to choose good potatoes
If you intend to buy potatoes that you hope to store for several months, then you must take the time to choose the best. Here are a few tips that can help.
Ensure none of them has any sprout: The first sign of spoilage in potatoes is a sprout or its semblance. This may not be a big issue if you plan to cook the potatoes the next day. But it will be a big problem if you plan to store them because the sprouts will keep growing.
Avoid pitted skin and brown centers: Any potato that has been damaged by unfavorable temperature usually develops pitted skin. So, you should only pick the ones with smooth skin.
No soft spot: Having a soft spot is another sign of damage. Unfortunately, this means that you have to touch every potato one after the other to be sure of their firmness. If you just check a few of them and assume that the rest are in the same perfect condition, you may be in for a big shocker. Check every one of them.
Avoid the ones with bruises: Potatoes can sometimes get bruised or damaged during harvest. While curing can heal some of the bruises, it is better to pick the ones without any injuries. Any sprout, damage, scar, or soft spot will only get worse with time. Select the ones without any issue.
Ways to improve your potato storage management
While storing your potatoes, there are certain tips to apply to make them last longer. These tips may be optional if your stored potatoes are for home or personal use but if you’re storing them for commercial reasons, it is important to apply some of the tips if not all to minimize damages, rots, and losses.
1. Keep records of every activity
It is important to keep records of all your activities. This will help you improve on it. For instance, you need to keep a record of the exact date you stored them and the exact quantity. You need to also take note of the first day you spotted a damaged one. Eventually, how many of them were still fresh when you sold them? How many got damaged?
When you change your storage method, you can use these figures for comparison. You’ll easily find out the method that works best for you when you put the figures against each other. Without proper record keeping, you may continue to repeat the same mistake several times.
2. Carry out safety assessments of your store
How safe is your store to you as well as to your crops? It is necessary to observe the highest safety standard in whatever you do. A good way is to get your store flushed regularly to prevent the buildup of carbon dioxide. It is needless to remind you of how harmful the gas is to humans and animals.
3. You must carry out temperature and condensation control
While temperature is quite difficult to control in traditional stores, condensation is even more difficult to control. It happens when warm air comes in contact with a cold surface. It could happen to your potatoes when the air around them is warmer than their temperature. If you have been following, by now, you should know what moisture can do to potatoes. Moisture breeds bacterial infections and other diseases. So, condensation control is as important is temperature control. You can upgrade your store to a modern one with automatic control systems.
4. Regular inspection
Inspecting your potatoes may be easy when you have them in a small quantity, you can easily touch and feel each of them one after the other. So, what happens if you have about 10 thousand potatoes? You may need to hire additional hands to inspect them. One good reason is to prevent the spread of diseases.
When you inspect your potatoes regularly, you’ll be able to detect any damaged or diseased potatoes early for quick removal. The longer they remain amid good/healthy ones, the more they’ll continue to infect them. A stitch in time saves nine. But with regards to potato storage, a stitch in time saves hundred.
5. Ensure there’s no air leakage
The biggest bane of temperature control in potato storage is air leakage. Not only will your heating and cooling facilities work harder, but you’ll also get below-par results. So, it is necessary to continuously check for air leakage in your store.
6. Proper airflow
While potatoes need warmth in the winter, they also need adequate airflow in the days of summer. Hence, you should ensure just that. Proper airflow allows air to permeate through them and cool them. It also blows out moisture from transpiration and respiration.
There are several precautions to take when storing potatoes as one little mistake can mar all your efforts. One of them has already been mentioned above. Never wash potatoes that you are not ready to use for your meal. Moisture can attract bacteria and induce rot in them. Find the other precautions below.
1. Never keep raw potatoes inside a refrigerator
When you keep raw potatoes inside your fridge, some of the starch in them will be converted to reducing sugars and that’ll lead to cold-induced sweetening. If the refrigerator is too cold for them, then a freezer is a no-go area for uncooked potatoes. Remember that 80% of the content of a potato is water. When put inside a freezer, the water in them will expand to form certain crystals. They’ll become too mushy for anything when defrosted. Furthermore, the air in the freezer can turn them brown.
2. Don’t keep them near other fruits
Don’t store your potatoes near other fruits and vegetables especially onions. They all produce a gas known as ethylene. This gas facilitates ripening. So, when you put your potatoes near any other fruit the ethylene produced by the fruits will increase the ripening of your potatoes and shorten their shelf-life.
3. Don’t cut them open when you’re not ready to use them
The inner part of potatoes is not as thick and tough as their skin. So, it can’t stay long when cut open. But you can put the slices of potatoes in cold water to preserve them for only 24 hours.
4. Cooked potatoes can be refrigerated
Ironically, cooked potatoes can last up to 4 days in a refrigerator and up to a year in the freezer as long as there’s no air around it. This is why you should press out all the air around it before sealing it in a plastic bag. Then you can put it in your freezer and store it for up to 1 year. Whenever you decide to heat and eat it, don’t just put it in your microwave oven. Allow it to defrost on its own to retain its natural taste. Whenever you decide to heat and eat it, don’t just put it in your microwave oven. Allow for it to defrost on its own to retain its natural taste. After that you can bake, roast, cook or fry it. It’ll taste good as long as you let it defrost on its own.
As a conclusive summary of all that has been discussed on how to store potatoes, here are important takeaways. They can be described as the dos and don’ts of potato storage.
- The first step to storing your potatoes should be to remove damaged and diseased ones from others to avoid infection.
- Cure them to thicken the skin of your potatoes and to heal minor bruises.
- Store them in cool well ventilated and dry place devoid of light.
- Inspect them to identify and remove rotten or diseased ones.
- If you want to start growing potatoes, look for resistant ones to minimize your storage efforts.
- Don’t refrigerate or freeze raw potatoes.
- Don’t cut them if you’re not ready to use them.
- Don’t store them near other crops especially onions.
Finally, by applying all the tips above, your potatoes will not only last longer, but you’ll also reduce losses due to disease, damages, and rots tremendously.