Mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, American fries, hash browns, gnocchi, au gratin potatoes, scalloped potatoes, pancakes, bread, salad….wait, I’m starting to sound like a scene from Forrest Gump! I LOVE POTATOES! They are a carby, buttery, warm little pile of deliciousness and my family eats a LOT of them – something like fifteen pounds a week or more!
I know, I know….CARBS! Just one five ounce potato contains about 26 carbohydrates. Dangit. But, do you know what ELSE that potato offers? How about zero fat, zero cholesterol, and zero sodium. If you eat the skin, where the vast majority of nutrients are found, you will also enjoy about 620 mg of potassium, 27 mg of vitamin C, and 20 mg of calcium. The way you prepare potatoes is important, as is what you add to them during that preparation, but potatoes certainly can – and in my potato loving opinion should – be part of a well balanced diet!
Editor’s note: cutting out any macronutrient, like carbs, is never a good idea. If you have hormone issues, for example, you’ll probably wind up even worse. If you can’t have nightshades then potatoes aren’t a friend, but they have so much nutrition that if you’re homesteading I definitely recommend a good potato once or twice a week if you’re otherwise healthy and eat good grub most of the time.
While I don’t currently grow ALL of the potatoes we eat, I do grow quite a few and that means I have to be able to store them. There are lots of ways to store potatoes, but there are a couple of key points to remember:
- Store only potatoes that are damage and disease free
- Store potatoes in cool, dark places
- Store and keep potatoes DRY
While harvesting is the first step toward storing your potatoes, let’s back up to spring when you’re deciding which varieties to plant. I personally find the best success with Kennebec’s for storage. While I would recommend them to just about any gardener due to their widely adapted growing habits, I suggest you speak with your local agricultural extension office regarding all of the different varieties of potato that do well in your specific area as well as which tend to store better in your climate. Some others that you might specifically look out for and ask about are Katahdin, Purple Peruvian, and the heirloom King Harry.
Ok, so now we’re ready to harvest the fantastic little, sometimes misshapen balls of starch! As I dig potatoes, I lay them out on the dirt I’ve already turned.
Once I’ve dug them all, I collect them and brush off the largest clumps of dirt. I then lay them out on a cool, flat surface for a couple of hours until the potatoes are dry.
I use cardboard lined, old packing crates and straw to store my potatoes, but you can store them in anything that will allow airflow and easy access while still adding cushioning and absorbing protection, and keeping the potatoes out of the light.
After cutting cardboard to line the sides of the crates, I put a layer of straw in the bottom and arrange a single layer of potatoes on top of the straw.
I continue by adding alternating layers of straw and potatoes until the crates are full making sure that straw is the last layer.
The final safeguard is to store the crates of potatoes in a cool, dark place. I have a small room built into the corner of my garage and I tuck the crates into the corner furthest from the door. I keep the door covered and closed, but light is the enemy so I try to keep the potatoes as far from any light as possible.
Potatoes and light just don’t mix, unfortunately. You’ll know if your stored potatoes are getting too much light, natural or artificial, if you start to see green skins. Chlorophyll, the same thing that makes all plants green, is what causes the green skin, but the same conditions that cause chlorophyll production can concentrate solanin, which is just one of the naturally occurring glycoalkaloids in all nightshade plants which help to naturally protect the plant against disease and pests.
So what’s the problem with solanin? It can be toxic in very high doses. It will make your potatoes taste bitter, and can lead to digestive upsets like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in moderate doses. At high doses, it can lead to neurological symptoms including headache, hallucinations, paralysis, and even death.
So what do we do?! First and foremost, peel away any part of the skin and flesh below that is green when preparing or eating potatoes. Stressed and diseased plants will naturally produce more solanin, which is one of the natural defenses against disease and pests, so keeping our plants disease and pest free is another key factor, as well as keeping them well covered to prevent sun exposure as they are growing. And absolutely, if you get a bitter bite of potato, don’t eat it! Err on the side of caution and just discard that potato. Keep in mind that individual sensitivities, as well as body size and the amount consumed will influence what the actual “toxic dose” is, but if you are ever in doubt after consuming potatoes, seek medical attention!
The good news about solanin is that storage does not seem to necessarily concentrate it unless potatoes are stored improperly. Keep them in the dark, and keep them cool! Because we use potatoes almost every single day, keeping an eye on my stash…I mean, storage….isn’t difficult. If you use potatoes less often however, make it a point to check on your spuds regularly. Any odor or wetness requires immediate investigation. You have to remove any decomposing potato, wet/contaminated potatoes, and cushioning material as quickly as possible or your entire container will go bad.
Occasionally give the containers a good sniff, look under them for any signs of moisture, and dig down into the layers a bit from time to time and feel for any soft, wrinkled potatoes. If you do find soft, wrinkled, or green skins, use those potatoes first. Everyone’s tastes are a bit different, but I find no issue with slightly soft potatoes in things like stews and roasts. If you find green skinned potatoes, remember they are still edible, just be sure to cut away and discard all of the green skin and flesh, and maybe don’t use only green skinned potatoes at the same time!
Have you had tried storing potatoes before? Leave a comment below and share your successes, and even things that didn’t work out so well! If there are any questions I’ve left unanswered, please leave those as well and I’ll answer them as quickly as I can!