So it’s got to the Autumn and you are finally digging the last of your maincrop and late potatoes with a view to storing them for Winter use. The next question that will arise is what is the best way to store your crop of potatoes in order to ensure minimal wastage and good quality edible spuds for your table?
1) Firstly you will need to allow your lifted potatoes several hours to dry and their skins to harden up. With this in mind it is best to dig them on a dry day so that you can leave them on the surface of the soil without any risk of them getting rained on. Do not leave them exposed to the light for more than a few hours or you risk them going green and becoming inedible.
2) Gather up your potatoes and find a comfortable place to sort through them. Check each potato to make sure they have no damage from either insects, slugs or your garden fork and they are not green due to exposure to light. It is very important that you remove the damaged potatoes to avoid them rotting in storage as this can spread to your other potatoes and ruin the undamaged ones also. Potatoes that have simply been scarred by the digging process are best used immediately as the damaged part is easily cut out. Green potatoes and potatoes with holes caused by wire worm, slugs or other pests are best discarded completely unless in the case of any with holes the holes are cut completely out of the potatoes.
3) Once you have sorted your potatoes it is time to consider your storage options. The best way to store your potatoes largely depends on the facilities you have available. For example, if you have a garden shed that is watertight and doesn’t have any windows, it is the perfect place for root vegetable storage. Invest in some potato sacks, either made of paper or of hessian, (these are readily available on ebay), and bag up your crop of potatoes according the quantity each sack is designed to hold. I personally use 75 lb hessian sacks that I can re-use every year. Seal up the neck of the sacks (I use cable ties on the hessian sacks) and place them in your shed. If there is even the slightest risk of any dampness on the floor of the shed ensure your sacks are not in direct contact with the floor, either by placing them on shelves, raised blocks or hanging them from the roof of the shed.
4) Alternative ways to store your potatoes over Winter include digging a shallow hole/trench in the ground, burying the potatoes in layers separated by straw and covered by soil for storage over the Winter. This system is also known as a “clamp” The problem with this system is the damage caused over Winter by pests, bugs etc, so losses are increased, which may well be why it is seldom used these days.
5) A further option is to pile up your potatoes on the surface of the soil using further soil between the layers of potatoes. You will need to add straw to the heap, ensuring much of it is exposed throughout the sides of the heap. This will allow not only ventilation to the heap, but also ensures moisture can escape. Again, pest damage is very possible here, but it is a system that has been utilized over many years in the past.
6) Where we live we are fortunate enough to have an old fashioned brick walled furze oven in our property. For those of you who have never heard of these, they are essentially a large, brick lined, several metre square alcove, which in the old days had a fire underneath them giving heat to the alcove above. People would bake bread in these ovens many many years ago. These ‘ovens’ are now largely redundant, but a quaint feature in many older homes, and an ideal place to store potatoes due to the cool dark conditions they provide. This is where we store our crop, but a cool dark cellar would work in exactly the same way.