Yard and Garden: Harvesting and Storing Potatoes

July 28, 2011, 8:42 am | Richard Jauron, Laura Sternweis

Iowa State University Extension specialists offer tips for harvesting and storing potatoes, as well as dealing with spuds that are green or knobby. To have additional questions answered, contact the experts at hortline@iastate.edu or call 515-294-3108.

When should I harvest my potatoes? 

Potatoes can be harvested when the tubers are small and immature (“new” potatoes) or when the crop is fully mature.

“New” potatoes are dug when the plants are still green and the tubers are greater than 1 inch in diameter. New potatoes should be used immediately, as they do not store well.

Potatoes grown for storage should be harvested after the vines have died and the crop is mature. To check crop maturity, dig up one or two hills after the plants have died. If the skins on the tubers are thin and rub off easily, the crop is not fully mature. Allow the crop to mature for several more days before harvesting the potatoes. When harvesting potatoes, avoid bruising, skinning or cutting the tubers. Damaged potatoes should be used as soon as possible.

Why are some of my potato tubers green? 

Potato tubers actually are enlarged underground stems. When potato tubers are exposed to light (either in the garden or storage), their skin turns green due to the formation of chlorophyll. The chlorophyll itself is not a problem. However, higher levels of glycoalkaloids also develop in the green tissue. Green tubers have a bitter taste and can cause nausea, headaches and other health problems if eaten in large quantities.

Tubers with small green areas can be safely eaten if the green portions are cut off and discarded. It would be best to discard potatoes that are largely green.

When growing potatoes in the garden, hill soil around the base of the potato plants to prevent the tubers from being exposed to light. After harvesting, store potatoes in a dark location.

How should I store my potatoes? 

After harvesting the potatoes, cure the tubers at a temperature of 50 to 60 F and high relative humidity (85 to 90 percent) for two weeks. The curing period allows minor cuts and bruises to heal. Thickening of the skin also occurs during the curing process.

Once cured, store potatoes at a temperature of 40 F and relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent.  Store the crop in a dark location, as potatoes turn green when exposed to light. If storage temperatures are above 50 F, the tubers may begin to sprout in two or three months. When stored below 40 F, potatoes develop a sugary, sweet taste. Sugary potatoes can be restored to their natural flavor by placing them at room temperature for a few days prior to use. Do not store potatoes with apples or other fruit. Ripening fruit give off ethylene gas, which promotes sprouting of tubers.

Why are my potatoes knobby? 

Fluctuations in soil moisture levels during tuber development may cause knobby potatoes. Watering on a regular basis (about once a week) during dry periods will help prevent this problem.


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