How to Harvest, Cure, and Store Potatoes

by Becky
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Properly harvesting, storing, and curing potatoes can make all the difference between a potato harvest lasting only a few months and lasting all winter long. It is worth extra effort and steps to preserve this staple crop. 

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We tried many methods of harvesting potatoes. A pitch fork, a shovel, a hand shovel, and bare hands. Since my kids like to do the harvesting, the preference is bare hands. Dirt up to our elbows? No problem! 

Even though the pitch fork and shovel are faster, they almost always result in many damaged potatoes. If you have a small plot of potatoes, digging by hand will yield a perfect harvest with little to no losses. Potatoes are too precious in a small garden to lose them to getting speared accidentally from the pitch fork.

In a larger potato plot you may feel a tool is worth the risk of accidental damage. There are a few specific potato harvesting tools that I haven’t tried but the reviews are positive. Here are some options I found:

Potato Hook

Hook for Rocky Soil

A little sun during the potato harvest usually doesn’t hurt anything but just to be safe, as we harvest the potatoes we place them in a basket under a shady bush. 

Curing Potatoes

The cure allows the thin skins to toughen up and it prepares them for storage. Cure potatoes in 55-70ºF at 85-95% humidity. Keep them away from light. A week or two all that is needed for curing.

Storing Potatoes

The best potatoes for storage are late maturing types or a second crop sown later in the season. This is because potatoes will only last about 6 weeks post harvest when stored above 60ºF. During mid-summer root cellars, garages, and other storage areas will generally not be cold enough for them to keep long term. 

In Arkansas, my first crop is ready in July and I have struggled to get a second succession crop to thrive because of mid summer heat. I have found that the ones I leave in the ground by accident are actually preserved quite well until winter. 

This is something that I plan on experimenting with more in the future and will update here as I learn more.

Potato Storing Locations

Not long ago root cellars were commonplace for storing potatoes. With electricity, refrigeration, and foods being shipped from thousands of miles away in the dead of winter, the need for the root cellar dwindled and it became a thing of the past.

A root cellar is still ideal for storing potatoes if you are lucky enough to have one or something like it. Roots cellars with a dirt floor create the cold and moist conditions potatoes love.  

Ideal potato storage conditions are 32-40ºF  and 80-90 percent humidity. 

No root cellar? There are a number of alternative options for storing potatoes. 

#1 Storage Pit

I read about this version of a storage pit in the book, “Seasons on Henry’s Farm”. What Henry does is digs a pit about 4 feet deep and six feet long. All the root vegetables go into burlap sacks that hold one bushel each. The first of the bags he stands upright and the next get laid horizontally over the top. He makes a map of everything in there. 

When it is full he covers everything with 3 to 4 inches of loose dirt to keep the mice out, then hay and straw to keep the cold out, and finally a tarp over the top of everything. 

The pit stays around 35ºF. They are in central illinois and wait until December to put everything in the pit because before then it is cooler to store the roots in the garage. 

I imagine if you had burrowing animals in your area like voles in your area this method may not work very well. But if you don’t it sounds like a very inexpensive option!

In my area if I dug four feet, it would make a lovely pond. I think if I did a shallower area around 2 feet and had it under a covered area like our pole barn it would be a viable option. I plan on trying this next year.

#2 Clamp

A clamp is an above ground storage method. A clamp works well for areas that average below 30ºF for most of the winter. However, in a very northern climate a clamp wouldn’t provide enough protection from frigid temperatures.

To build a clamp you would mound the potatoes in a dry spot that drains well. You lay down a thick layer of straw or leaves (about 12 inches) and then mound your potatoes.  In the middle of the pile a vertical layer of straw from top to bottom helps to add ventilation. 

At the top, add more straw or leaves, then boards over the straw if you want to keep mice out. Then layer on several inches of soil over the top of that. 

According to the book “Root Cellaring” by Mike and Nancy Bubel, several smaller clamps are better than one large one. This is because once you open the clamp to harvest potatoes you must take them all indoors because they will freeze. 

For read more information on this method, I highly recommend the book “Root Cellaring” by Mike and Nancy Bubel I mentioned above. 

#3 Garage

A garage generally isn’t the best solution for storing potatoes. However, if it’s conditions are cooler than your house (closer to the ideal 32-40ºF) the potatoes will last for longer. Keeping it moist enough that the potatoes don’t shrivel can be a challenge but damp burlap bags surrounding the potatoes can help increase humidity.

#4 Basement

An ideal basement set up should be unheated and have a dirt floor to keep humidity high. When I lived in our NY farmhouse (built in 1900) the basement was 6 feet tall, it had a dirt floor in one area and it was unheated. It was a perfect root cellar area. My mom kept apples down there one year and they lasted through the winter.

Our old New York Farmhouse built in 1900

My basement now has an unheated room but it is not good for potatoes because the floor is concrete and it’s too warm. My white potatoes shrivel and send up sprouts in January, much too early.

If your basement is cool but not moist, you can try the damp burlap sack method I mentioned above or keeping a pan of water in the basement to raise humidity.


Root Cellaring. Mike and Nancy Bubel. Storey Publishing, 1991.

Seasons on Henry’s Farm. Terra Brockman.

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