Potato in the ground

Potatoes left in the soil for winter

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How long can potatoes be left in the ground after the tops die?

Hi Lourdes, I read your message yesterday but didn’t want to answer immediately as I wanted to give it some thought. We’ve been at our current home 14 months now and I can honestly say that, yes, our new place feels like home in the sense that I no longer yearn to be back at our previous home. I feel more at peace and am enjoying the smaller feel of the home. The only reason I can’t say I love it is because it’s missing a lot of what we wanted in our next home. Our prior home was a 2-story almost 5000 sq ft (very close to the size of yours) and we had it custom built to our taste, wants and needs and we had top of the line on everything, so we fell totally in love with it immediately. Our current home is 2200 sq ft. Though we would have preferred something around the 2600-3000 sq ft, we are quite content with the size of our current home except for needing one additional bedroom. Main problem is that it’s a builder tract home (I guess that’s the right term?) and has no personality or character. It looks like all the other homes in our neighborhood. Everything is builder grade in the home. We’ve done quite a bit of upgrading, which has helped and updated the master bathroom so that has made the inside of the home a lot classier. Once I’m in the house, I’m happy. It’s driving down the street towards our home that depresses me. We live in a Del Webb adult community so the neighborhood itself is very nice with lakes and a golf course but the homes are all cookie cutter. Everything about these homes screams "builder grade." When we were looking, we needed to stay in our current suburb because my husband was still working and he needed a short commute. 2017 was the year the DFW Metroplex was experiencing a housing shortage and there wasn’t much to choose from especially in 1-story homes. We found what I think would have been the perfect home but it was in another suburb adjacent to ours but at the far end and it would have meant a very long commute for my husband and I didn’t want that. The house we bought and live in now met our needs with regards to a short drive to work and layout but is missing a lot of what we need or would like: character/personality; more storage, a large island in the kitchen, 3 bedrooms, bigger laundry room, a fireplace and a 3 car garage and most important – a better quality home. My husband is retiring at the end of the month and we’re already starting to look for another home. We both don’t feel this is our permanent home. It’s not a good fit. Size (so long as it’s no less than 2200) is not important. I actually like the smaller home feel so long as the main rooms are good size and the house has an open concept. I wouldn’t want anything over 3000 sq ft for sure! So to answer your question, yes, we feel this is home – for now – but not our permanent home. We have wonderful memories of our prior home but I would not want another big home. I no longer yearn to be back in our prior home. If we could re-create a new house with the same style and amenities that our prior home had but in a smaller size, it would be ideal. I would encourage you to give it more time. I certainly feel that 3000 sq ft is a good size. Yes, it takes time to get used to going from a bigger home to a smaller one. But if you’re happy with the neighborhood, the personality of your home, the layout and quality of construction, then I’m fairly confident, it will feel like home in the next few months. You can always make minor changes to reflect your personality and make it yours. It took me close to a year to get there. Please stay in touch and let me know how things are going.I know what you’re going through and how miserable a feeling it is when a house doesn’t feel like home. My personal email is: [email protected] Let me know if you have any other questions. Sorry my response was so long. 🙂 Best wishes, Mina Cowan

HARVESTING & STORING POTATOES

HOW TO HARVEST EARLY POTATOES

Early potatoes store for about 5 days in a cool, dry and dark position so harvest them when needed. They really do taste best when harvested and then eaten a day or so later. Begin to harvest early potatoes two to three months after planting them in the ground. Generally this is a week or two after the flowers appear.

Some potato varieties rarely produce flowers other varieties produce lots. But flowering is a very unreliable method of determining if the potatoes are ready for harvest, sometimes normally reliable flowering varieties produce no flowers at all. Time from planting is the best method.

For the first harvest, check out if the potatoes are ready by using a trowel or your hand and then gently burrowing around the roots of a strongly growing plant with your hands. You should be able to feel the size of the largest potatoes and decide if harvest can begin.

All potatoes are best harvested when the soil is not too damp. Dig a fork into the ground about 30cm / 12in away from the potato plant stem and angle the fork slightly towards the stem as you dig in. You are trying to get near the potatoes growing under the ground but not so near that you pierce them with your fork.

Gently lever the soil up which should expose some of the potatoes. Burrow around the soil with your hands and harvest the potatoes. Clean up potatoes of excess soil by brushing it off with your hands and let them dry before storing. Don’t wash them.

HOW CAN EARLY POTATOES BE STORED

Early potatoes are best eaten fresh, within a few days of being harvested. They taste better and cook better when eaten that way. However, if you simply have too many to eat or give away there are a couple of options to extend the time over which they can be eaten.

Probably the easiest and most successful is to simply leave them in the ground for longer than normal rather than harvest them. Many earlies and second earlies will easily keep in the ground for two weeks past their optimum harvest date. Their skins will tend to harden up and some of the “fresh from harvest” taste will be lost but it’s better than simply throwing them away.

When the foliage starts to die down harvest those potatoes you can eat. Remove all the dying foliage from the others to reduce the risk of pests and disease. Mark out where the potatoes are underground, because without the foliage you will soon forget where they are growing. Harvest the potatoes whenever required.

Another method for extending the keeping period of new potatoes is to harvest them and store them in spent compost (or sand if you have it). The potatoes should be stored in dark and cool conditions. We recommend this over simply re-burying them in the ground. One very definite benefit of using spent compost is that it almost excludes the risk of slug and eelworm damage.

The above method should enable storage of new potatoes, in edible condition, for three to four weeks after harvest.

As in many aspects of gardening, the best results come from compromise and here is our five step plan for making the most of a large crop of early potatoes:

  1. Harvest some potatoes before they reach full size. This will reduce the cropping potential but you can start eating your potatoes roughly two weeks earlier than you would normally. It will also tend to increase the size of the potatoes remaining in the ground.
  2. Eat the potatoes when they are ready as you normally would do. This is roughly at the beginning of July.
  3. Cut off the foliage above ground early July and leave the others in the ground for two weeks longer than you would normally. This will cause the skin to harden slightly and in turn increase their keeping potential.
  4. Harvest about half of what you now have in the ground. These should be stored in cool dark conditions. If possible, store them in spent compost (in containers) although storing them loose in well ventilated containers is a good alternative.
  5. Leave the remaining potatoes in the ground and harvest when needed. They will not be new potatoes but with a bit of luck will still taste good. The main problem area is likely to be slug and / or eelworm damage.

HOW TO HARVEST MAINCROP POTATOES

Maincrop potatoes are ready for harvest when the foliage starts to turn yellow. Much depends on the weather conditions throughout the growing season so gently rummage in the soil to feel the size of the potatoes before harvesting the lot. Harvesting maincrop potatoes is similar to harvesting earlies with just a few differences.

First, it is important to harvest maincrop potatoes on a sunny day. When the potatoes have been dug up they should have excess soil shaken off and then left to dry on the soil surface in the sun for a couple of hours at the very least, a couple of days is best. This will harden up the skin of the potatoes and help them to store much longer and cook without the surface breaking up.

Because maincrop potatoes keep for a relatively long period of time, they can be harvested in large batches and eaten from storage when required.

HOW TO STORE POTATOES

The ideal storage container for maincrop potatoes will exclude the light but at the same time allow moisture to escape. Hessian sacks are probably the best the container for storing potatoes but they do cost. If you can’t find anyone who stocks them try clicking The Gardener’s Shop.

Almost as good are large paper bags, the dull type not the glossy ones. And best of all you can get them free! Take a trip down to your local fish and chip shop and they’ll gladly give them away – they have several bags delivered each week and just throw the bags away.

Only store potatoes in good condition. If you store some damaged potatoes, they will all become infected. Any damaged ones can be eaten over the next week or so.

Store in cool conditions but never in the fridge or freezer. If the potatoes are stored too cool they will turn sweet and not store for very long. The best temperatures for storing potatoes are in the range 5°C to 8°C / 40°F to 45°F.

For the average gardener these “ideal” temperatures are hard to achieve. The basic rule is don’t let the temperature drop much below 4°C / 40°F and keep them as cool as you can above that temperature. A garden shed in the shade is often a good place.

Exclude the light. If light gets to potatoes in storage they will turn green and begin to sprout. This “greening” can often be reversed by placing the potatoes in complete dark for a week or two. The storage bags will exclude some of the light but also store them in a dark position such as a garden shed or a cool cellar.

Inspect the stored potatoes regularly. The best method is to turn the bags out once every month and examine each of the potatoes. Discard any which show signs of deteriorating. Again, in practice the average gardener may not have time to do this. At the very least, open the bags once a month and smell the potatoes immediately. Rotting or diseased potatoes can easily be detected by their odour. Remove a few potatoes from the top of the bag and inspect those below.

How to Store Potatoes So They Don’t Go Bad

Getty Images: herreid14

You only have to smell a rotting potato once, and you will never forget it. I learned this the unfortunate way one summer, and I vowed to never let it happen again. Granted, my wayward potato had been hidden for some time. Still, I’ve frequently turned to a 3-pound bag I purchased a week or so beforehand, only to find the spuds soft, wrinkly, green, or sprouting.

Clearly, I haven’t been storing them properly. Depending on what else I have in my kitchen, I toss them either in a dark corner or in a basket near a window. Turns out, these are both bad ideas.

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The reason taters turn green is the same as why most plants turn green: chlorophyll. The light in my kitchen gets that chemical reaction going. Conversely, when I put them in the darkish corner near my kitchen sink, I’m simulating their dark and moist growing environment—so they sprout. Both processes deplete the potatoes from within, which is why they begin to wrinkle (and eventually rot).

The solution is to store them in a cool, dry, dark place. Cool as in not near the stove or heating vents (but not in the refrigerator). Dry and dark as in a cupboard or pantry that’s not near the sink and is frequented enough where they won’t be forgotten. A ventilated and dry basement is also a good option.

If they’ve come in plastic bags, transfer the tubers to a paper bag with the top open, a basket, or a mesh sack to allow them to breathe. A closed container will promote moisture and speed their demise.

There’s been some debate about whether potatoes should co-habitate with foods like onions, or ripe avocados, or bananas because of the ripening gases these other foods release. However, storing potatoes with apples, which also produce this ripening agent, ethylene gas, has been shown to inhibit sprouting. Since I frequently store my potatoes with onions, near the bananas—and my potatoes tend to go bad—I’m inclined to think this storage tactic hasn’t been the best option. I think I’ll hedge my bets and keep them living in solitary confinement from now on.

The takeaway? Keep them cool. Keep them dry. Keep them dark. Keep them solo. Consider buying only what your family can realistically eat in a week. But if you still need things to do with those potatoes before they go bad, try these 22 recipes for potato salad.

Do you grow your own potatoes or buy in bulk from the farmers market? Follow these five easy steps to keep your potatoes fresh all winter long.

I have an unheated corner in my basement that is perfect for storing potatoes for winter. This corner stays dark, cool, and performs like a root cellar. I have added a good-sized shelving area where I store the food preserved during the growing season. The shelves are filling up with baskets of onions, garlic, and canned tomato sauce, jelly, salsa, beans, carrots, grape juice, pickles, and applesauce.

I can’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as I look over the jars and baskets of homegrown bounty. Not only because we have this food to feed us but I also feel good knowing exactly where my food comes from and that it was grown with no chemicals.

The Next Harvest to Add to the Shelves is the Storing Potatoes

I harvest fresh potatoes here and there as needed for meals, but the majority of the tubers are left in the ground to mature fully. The potato foliage usually begins dying back in August sending the last of the plants energy beneath the ground to the tubers. I like to wait several weeks or longer after the foliage has died back completely to allow the skins toughen up. This will help protect the tubers from abrasions during harvest.

The big dig of the main crop of storing potatoes is in October before the ground freezes. I watch the weather closely and choose a warm, dry day after a period of little or no rain.

I dig carefully using a digging fork to loosen the soil and then sift through with my hands to pull out the tubers to avoid damaging them. The potatoes are placed in a garden cart. If the sun is out, I shade the cart because sunlight will cause the potatoes to turn green.

Occasionally, I will come across a few potatoes damaged by moles or voles, or accidentally stab one with the digging fork. Damaged potatoes should be kept separate from your storing potatoes because they are more likely to rot and possibly infect the rest of the tubers. So place these aside to be trimmed and eaten first.

5 Steps to Storing Potatoes for Winter

1. Find an Area Suitable for Storing Potatoes

Potatoes should be stored in a dark environment at about 45˚F to 50˚F (7˚C to 10˚C). The relative humidity should be around 95% to prevent them from drying out. I store potatoes in an unheated corner of the basement that stays dark, cool, and performs just like a root cellar. If you don’t have a basement, consider some of these other storing potato options at Mother Earth News.

2. Choose Potato Varieties that are Good for Storing

Some potato varieties known for their long term storage capabilities are Yukon Gold, Katahdin, Kennebec, and Yellow Finn. I grow Dark Red Norland, a mid-season variety and Kennebec, a late season variety. Kennebec lasts longer in storage so we try to consume the Dark Red Norland first. If you are purchasing from a farmers market, ask the growers which varieties they recommend for long term storing potatoes.

3. Cure the Potatoes Before Storing

Curing your potatoes toughens up the skin and helps extend the storage life. To cure, spread out the unwashed potatoes in seedlings trays or boxes lined with newspapers. Cover the trays with a dark towel to eliminate light but allow air to circulate and let them cure for several weeks in an area that is between 50-60˚F.

4. Pack Up the Potatoes for Storing

Store unwashed, cured tubers in a dark area in covered boxes or bins with some holes for ventilation. I store my potatoes in recycled paper boxes nestled in shredded paper recycled from bills and other paperwork. I cut a few holes in the sides of the boxes for air circulation, add a layer of shredded paper, and spread out the potatoes, cover with more shredded paper, and continue until the box is full.

As you pack up your potatoes, lightly brush off excess dirt and inspect them carefully. Tubers with broken skin or damage should be separated and used immediately instead of stored. Once the box is full, place the cover on it, add a label, and store in a cool, dark area. Ideal storage conditions for potatoes are at 45˚F to 50˚F (7˚C to 10˚C) and 80-90% relative humidity. Can last 4-9 months in storage depending on the variety.

5. Check on the Stored Potatoes

Every few weeks I look through the boxes to remove any potatoes that may begin to rot. Usually you can tell by the scent if there is one in the box. If you notice a musky, sour dirt smell, you should go through the box to remove the rotten potato before it infects the others.

Storing potatoes this way will help keep them fresh for several months depending on the temperature and humidity. Ours usually last until March before they begin sprouting. Sprouted potatoes can be planted in spring as long as they look healthy and the previous season was disease free.

Additional Tips:

  • Store potatoes separate from onions and fruits. These give off ethylene gas that can cause your potatoes to sprout prematurely.
  • Keep stored potatoes in the dark. Exposure to light will cause a build-up of Solanine, a chemical that causes potatoes to turn green, produces a bitter taste, and if eaten in large quantity can cause illness. Trim off potato skin that has turned green. If the green has penetrated into the potato, throw it away.

Want to Learn How to Grow Potatoes?

You will find everything you need to start growing potatoes in my PDF eBook, Grow a Good Life Guide to Growing Potatoes. Whether you are striving for a few gourmet fingerling potatoes or a large crop for winter food storage, this guide will show how you can grow your own, organic, homegrown potatoes.

Further Reading:

  • 14 Crops for Winter Food Storage
  • Sourcing Seed Potatoes Locally
  • Over 6 Different Potato Planting Methods
  • Planting Potatoes the Grow Biointensive Way
  • 9 Crops to Grow for Food Storage
  • 8 Great Tips for Growing Potatoes

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