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.
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 toughens up the potatoes skin and extends the storage life. I cure potatoes in a cool and dark area of the basement by spreading the tubers out into seedling trays lined with newspaper. I cover the trays with a dark towel to eliminate light but allow air to circulate and let them cure for several weeks.
4. Pack Up the Potatoes for Storing: 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 I pack up the storing potatoes, I lightly brush off excess dirt and inspect them carefully. Tubers with broken skin or damage are separated to be used immediately instead of stored. Once the box is full, I place the cover on it, add a label, and store in a cool, dark area.
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.