Today is the 25th of September. It was a lovely day with the afternoon in the mid seventies. A stiff breeze was making a rustling noise in the fields of drying Iowa corn. I decided to dig my red-skinned potatoes. The vines had given their last hurrah mid month.
Some had asked me about storage through the winter. I have knocked together a rack (on casters) in the basement that uses large restaurant bus tubs for shelves.
I have found potatoes keep better if one doesn’t wash them before storage. I just rub off the excess soil when I dig them. I Sort them for size and (some for condition). I throw a mover’s blanket over the rack to minimize light. I have the rack in a basement room where the lights can be kept off most of the time. There is a small east-facing window, but we keep a heavy drape over it.
Lest you think they all look like they came from the supermarket in a bag…
The box contains small potatoes that will probably go in stews or the crock pot without being peeled. The dozen or so in the foreground were damaged by marauding thirteen-line ground squirrels. They will probably be used first as mashed potatoes after paring away the damage.
The patch was deep turned with a spading fork during harvest. It took a lot of passes with the tiller to return the resulting clods of Iowa clay loam to a friable condition. It took good nights rest to return me to normal.
Lord, I am grateful for a good potato harvest and the satisfaction of manual labor.
For the past couple of years, I have been raising some redskin potatoes in our garden. My approach has been to till in a fair amount of composted manure to prepare the plot. Potatoes are heavy feeders, so the manure really helps. I rake a shallow trench for a row in the newly tilled soil and place the seed potatoes, eye up. Then I rake the soil back over to just cover.
My approach is much easier than the common approach of placing them in a 6″-8″ deep trench; easier to plant and easier to harvest. The deep-trench method is designed to keep the potatoes covered as they grow. I followed the traditional approach three years ago and found it backbreaking work. When it came time to harvest, I damaged many trying to dig them up in the tight Iowa soil.
Potatoes exposed to the sun will turn green and be toxic. (Potatoes belong to the Nightshade family.) I avoid exposure of the tubers to the sun by deeply mulching them with clean straw or even grass clippings. When it comes time to harvest, they can be carefully exposed with a rake and digging will be minimal. The fork may still be necessary to free tubers that end up a little deeper (on their own). It is best to dig further away from the vine and pry up the soil to loosen.
I wash off any dirt that clings to the potatoes. This year, I filled the wheelbarrow with water and allowed them to soak for a couple of hours. Most didn’t require any extra cleaning.
After allowing them to dry in the driveway, I pack them in open tubs in layers of straw for storage in the basement.The straw prevents the potatoes from packing too closely together and improves storage. I usually have usable potatoes right up to planting time and can provide seed potatoes from last year’s harvest.