Preserving your potato harvest, or store-bought potatoes on a year round basis to ensure you have amassed the stockpile you need for SHTF requires a decent amount of space, but is an otherwise simple survival endeavor.
Folks working within some rather intense space constraints, such as apartments, can still put up hundreds of pounds of potatoes, if they are willing to put in some extra processing time.
Potatoes are one of the best disaster crops you can grow or buy. They are not only easily stored without the use of electricity, they are filled with carbohydrates and incredibly simple and cheap to grow.
Potatoes are also chock full or carbohydrates. While carbs might not be waistline friendly now, during an emergency situation we will need to ingest as many of them as we can to garner the energy we need to long hard days of manual labor and perimeter security patrols.
Potatoes are a versatile crop as well. In many USDA agricultural growing regions you could cultivate two crops a year. They are a hardy crops, take up little space to grow and can even easily be grown in containers.
They can also be easily prepared and quickly eaten when baked over a campfire, requiring no very little effort by the cook.
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Potatoes Storage Temperature and Humidity
Potatoes are tubers, and thrive in humid conditions. This durable crop is comprised of 80 percent water. The best places to store them long-term should be dark, well-ventilated, and cool areas – but not cold.
Storing potatoes in conditions that are too dark and humid, like under the kitchen sink, too closely simulates the cultivation process, and will cause them to sprout far more quickly. The storage temperature and humidity where potatoes are stored have an enormous impact on their longevity.
Some researchers believe that keeping temperatures below the longstanding recommendation of 55 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (12 to 19 Celsius) will prevent the growth of sprouts on potatoes longer and reduce both shrinkage and a loss of nutrients.
This temperature adjustment is sometimes hotly debated, as are many things when it comes to the best way to garden or preserve food.
Storing potatoes at temperatures that range from 43 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s between 6 and 12 Celsius) may allow them to keep for multiple months without rotting or sprouting eyes.
That temperature is just a tad bit warmer than the heat levels commonly found in a refrigerator, unheated garage, cellar, or basement.
When exposed to light, the chlorophyll process begins, and will spark wrinkling of the potatoes and then rotting. No matter what method of long-term potato storage you choose, they must always be kept in a dark place.
Without further ado, here are the top 7 ways to store your potatoes for the long term.
1. In a Root Cellar
Building a root cellar is the best way to store not only potatoes, but a host of fresh from the garden crops and home canned food stuffs. If you have the space and can invest the time and typically a reasonable amount of money necessary to build a root cellar, it will pay off enormously during a long-term disaster.
A root cellar allows you to extend the storage time of potatoes without reducing their quality. You would have to store potatoes in a root cellar for a number of years (if it is constructed properly) to see eyes grow on them or have them turn to mush like the ones kept in a bin or cabinet in your kitchen.
Always do a visual inspection of every single potato before it goes into a wood or plastic bin in your root cellar. Storing just one or a few bruised or damaged potatoes in a bin can cause that rot to spread to the other healthy potatoes in the same bin in a fairly short amount of time.
Unless or until you cannot build a root cellar to store potatoes, a basement will suffice. But, the key to keeping potatoes shelf stable in a root cellar like environment is ensuring they are protected from both light and moisture – which can be extremely difficult in a basement.
Do not wash away the dirt on harvested potatoes before storing them in a root cellar. The dirt helps provide a buffer from moisture and light, and will usually help the potato last longer.
Although this is a time and space consuming task, if you lay out potaotes on black and white print newspaper on a table in a dark area for about 14 days in 50 to 60 degree F temperatures (10 to 15 C), you can often spot a bad potato or one that is likely to have skin damage or moisture problems before putting it in the root cellar bin.
2. Pressure Canning
Potatoes can be water bathed canned at home, but they must be blanched during this process, or they will not preserve at all, and simply turn into a stinking mush over time. Wash, cut, and either chunk or dice the potatoes before starting the canning process. Ideally, the chunks should not be larger than about half an inch.
Next, boil the potatoes until they are JUST cooked. If you boil the potatoes too long they will get mushy, and you may as well go ahead and just make mashed potatoes, potato cakes, and potato candy for your family, because they are no longer suitable for long-term preservation.
Drain away the boiled water and strain the potato chunks into your Mason jars.
I can potatoes in quart jars, and toss in about 1 teaspoon of salt into each one. Fill the jar roughly three-fourths full of potatoes, and one-fourth full of FRESHLY boiled water. Do not keep and reuse the water you used to blanch the potatoes.
Pressure can the potatoes under 10 pounds of pressure. Process pint jars of potatoes for 35 minutes and quart jars for 40 minutes. Follow the user guide on your pressure canner for safe and proper processing.
Check out the step-by-step recipe for pressure canning potatoes here.
To dehydrate potatoes, wash and peel them – unless you enjoy the peels in your recipes. Leaving them on will not harm the dehydrating process at all.
Once your potatoes are cleaned, slice them to about one-eighth of an inch thickness. Uniformity is always crucial when dehydrating or the item being dried will not do so evenly and will extend time in the machine and possibly allow you to miss some pieces that still retain moisture and will rot over time.
Some folks prefer to use a mandolin to slice potatoes for dehydrating because it vastly speeds up the process and dang near guarantees perfect uniformity. Those folks are right, I simply cut mine with a knife, because any time I have attempted to use a mandolin I wind up bloody before it’s all over.
Place a single layer or potato slices on the dehydrator trays, making sure to space them so they are not touching in an effort to foster maximum air flow in between each little slice.
Dehydrate the potatoes on the vegetable setting or at 130 to 135 degrees F (or 54 to 57 C) until they are dry and crispy in texture when bent. Typically, it takes about 10 hours to dehydrate five trays of potatoes in my moderately priced home dehydrating machine.
Once the potato slices are fully dehydrated you can seal them in a Mason jar or a bag that is run through your vacuum sealing machine. To save space (and perhaps time later), you can powder the dried potatoes in a blender or food processor before storing in an airtight jar. Two tablespoons of potato flakes is roughly equal to one ounce of a whole potato.
Check out step by steps (photos included) of how to make potato flakes here.
You do not need to reconstitute dehydrated potatoes before using in most cases because the hot liquid they are exposed to in the cooking or baking process will do the job for you.
Potatoes can remain shelf stable for at least one year in a frozen state (unless your freezer or deep freeze loses power). Freezing potatoes for later use is the least reliable choice due to power concerns, even if you have a hardy generator and stockpiled copious amounts of fuel.
However, this method does work. If you have constructed an off grid ice house, the freezing potatoes preservation method is a better option.
To freeze potatoes, they must first be washed and peeled. Once you have clean raw potatoes, cut then into half an inch chunks or cube them. Next, blanch (or par-boil as some folks call it) until they are slightly too firm to be easily mashed – especially by hand.
Drain away the starch infused water and allow the blanched potato chunks to cool completely – this is essential to freezing success, do not jump the gun and figure the potatoes are “cool enough.” Put the cubed potatoes in a freezer bag – ideally one that has been vacuum sealed, and place them flat in the freezer.
Before placing the potato chunks in bags, consider how you will be using them once they are removed from cold storage. When the bag is opened, the shelf life of the potatoes is decreased because they have been both exposed to moisture and experienced a temperature change. I recommend storing some potatoes in pint and quart bags and only a few in gallon bags to avoid future loss.
Here’s the full freezing recipe with photos.
Never place raw potatoes in the freezer or refrigerator, they MUST be blanched to avoid rotting and “cold induced sweetening” from occurring. The sweetening happens when the massive amount of starch found in potatoes, are converted to sugars.
When potatoes that have had this sweetening occur are subjected to hot temperatures in the skillet or oven, they could produce carcinogens.
When raw potatoes are placed in temperatures that are chilly or freezing, they turn brown, the water in the tubers expands exponentially, and spark the growth of crystals that cause the destruction of cell wall structures.
Once this happens, the potatoes turn to mush, and are no longer fit to eat. Only after the raw potatoes are blanched or par-broiled are the browning enzymes (that cause discoloration and rotting to occur) deactivated.
5. Perforated Plastic Bags
When you purchase potatoes at a store they typically come in either a perforated plastic bag or a mesh sack. If you store the potatoes in the plastic bag them come in, or place them in plastic sacks you poke holes in yourself, they will remain shelf stable a lot longer than you might think.
Because the perforations in the sacks increases humidity to approximately a 95 percent level and the tubers thrive in humidity, far less chance of shrinkage or rotting occurs.
For this type of storage to keep you potatoes from growing eyes (or sprouts) or becoming mushy for up to six months, they must be stored in a spot with a temperature of roughly 55 to 57 degrees F (12 to 13 C). The humidity in the space should remain a stable 67% on average.
Potatoes stored inside these bags in unheated areas of the students’ homes benefited from a relatively cool average temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13 Celsius) and a relatively high average humidity of 67%.
Do not close the end of the plastic bag (or only loosely tie) it to avoid the humidity levels from getting too high.
6. Paper Bag – Cardboard Box
Storing potatoes in a paper bag or cardboard box with other veggies, like a few apples or tomatoes, is a novel idea that is starting to take hold. If you have ever ripened a green tomato in this manner, you are already familiar with the ethylene gas release process of some fruits and vegetables.
Oddly enough, when you put the potatoes in a paper bag or cardboard box with apples, tomatoes, or bananas, for example, the combined and additional ethylene released can have the opposite of a ripening effect – it may actually preserve the tubers.
While I have had great luck apples and bananas to ripen green tomatoes in this manner, I have not personally known of it working optimally for potatoes.
But, some folks swear by it, and staunchly maintain a pairing like this in an open or loosely closed paper bag or cardboard box can prevent sprouting and rotting.
Remember, never close potatoes in too tightly in any container (unless they have been pressure canned or dehydrated) because the humidity levels will increase substantially, and induce rotting.
7. Cold Hole
Potatoes thrive in cave-like conditions. Creating such an environment to not help make them more shelf stable for a longer period of time works quite well in small batches, Digging enough cold holes to covertly store a large harvest of potatoes would take a whole lot of time – but, it could be done.
Digging a cold hole to preserve potatoes is a concept that has been around for thousands of years. Sometimes the hole is lined with stones, and with other root crops like carrots.
The only downside to this storage method is the tough skin the vegetables develop over time. Burying the potatoes about three feet deep is required to create optimal storage conditions. But, do not store them in any type of container; too much moisture will be produced and they will prematurely rot.
While there are only a few ways to successfully store potatoes long-term for a SHTF scenario, each method tends to work incredibly well as long as you follow the directions to the letter.
No matter which way(s) you choose to preserve potatoes as part of your survival food security plan, make sure to record the amount of the vegetable you process on your food preps inventory sheet.
Knowing exactly how much food you have at your disposal is the only real way to be sure there will be enough to go around once the grocery stores have been picked bare during a disaster.