Whether you are a seasoned homesteader or simply a thrifty shopper, storing food in bulk is a sustainable and money-saving practice. While it is difficult to store fresh veggies over the cold season, other crops like sweet potatoes make great food sources during the winter. There are some key tips you need to know when you are storing sweet potatoes for the winter.
To store sweet potatoes for the winter, you need to buy or grow quality sweet potatoes, get rid of any rotten ones, pick a suitable container, and keep your potatoes in the dark. You need to ensure they have room to “breathe,” they stay humid, keep them cool, and check them every few weeks or so.
If you are spending money and time buying or growing lots of sweet potatoes, you should know how to store them properly, so your money and time do not go to waste at all. In this article, you will learn all the ins and outs of storing your sweet potatoes for the winter.
Purchase or Grow Quality Sweet Potatoes
The first key to putting together a great store of sweet potatoes for the wintertime is to ensure that your potatoes are actually worth storing. If you are hoping to put together a really high-quality store of sweet potatoes over the winter and you slip in just one or two potatoes that are squishy or rotten, then you run the risk of spoiling the whole batch.
Keys for Buying Quality Sweet Potatoes
If you are not the outdoorsy kind or if you just do not have the resources to plant your own veggies, then you will be buying your sweet potatoes either from a grocery store or, if you are lucky, a local farmer. Wherever you choose to get your sweet potatoes from, you should only pick the best of the best.
When you are looking for sweet potatoes from a grocery store, look for large, firm, brightly colored sweets. Avoid potatoes that look like they are on their last legs—if they are not good quality now, they definitely won’t be good quality in two months 1.
If you have the opportunity to buy sweet potatoes straight from a local farmer, take it! This helps keep money in your local economy, which helps strengthen communities. It is also a great way to ensure that your sweet potatoes are fresh. Grocery store sweet potatoes may have been stored commercially for months already, while farm-fresh potatoes are likely less than a week old.
Keys to Growing Quality Sweet Potatoes
If you are growing your own sweet potatoes, it is important that you choose varieties that are going to taste good, cook well, and last for a long time. Several sweet potatoes are available to the general public for growing in your garden.
According to a helpful article from the Michigan State University Extension, the two most popular sweet potato varieties to grow at home are the Beauregard and Jewell varieties. These are two breeds of sweet potato that are readily available in seed catalogs and gardening/home improvement stores 2.
One of the essential things to remember when you are growing your own sweet potatoes for long term storage is to check them for pests. While growing potatoes at home can be as easy as planting and forgetting some old “eyes” (the nubby seeds/sprouts that pop out the sides of potato skins), there are a number of bugs that want to get at your sweet potatoes.
When you pull up your sweet potatoes to prepare them for winter storage, you should make sure that your potatoes do not have any bugs in them. You can tell that your potatoes are buggy because they will have chew marks, holes, and soft spots in them.
Remove Any Rotten or Offensive Sweet Potatoes
After you have harvested or bought your ideal amount of sweet potatoes (this can be anywhere from a pound to a hundred pounds), it is time to take a really close look and make sure that none of them are spoiled. You have heard the old adage, “one bad apple spoils the bunch.” The same goes for sweet potatoes.
When you leave a rotten sweet potato in the mix with fifty others that are healthy, the bacteria that has taken over the rotten potato will spread to the healthy potatoes and feast on them until they have all become a rotten stinky mess.
To avoid this smell bacteria takeover, you have to do some precision work on your sweet potatoes. While it might seem annoying, it is important to pick through them, so you do not end up losing your potatoes over the winter when you are sleepy and hungry for some root veggies.
Take a good look at each of your potatoes when you are packing them up for winter storage. Notice what they look like—they will all be a bit dirty, which is fine. Small pits, eyes, and surface blemishes are all fine and healthy. However, if you find holes, soft spots, or mold on your potatoes, ditch them immediately 3.
Pick the Right Container
Now that you’ve gone through your potato stash and tossed any ones that aren’t worthy of saving (sorry, guys), you’ve got to pick the right holding device for your potatoes. There are dozens of options on the market for places to stash your potatoes for the season. I’ve gathered a few of them together to show you what you’re working with.
The Frugal Option
If you’re not looking to splurge on something fancy to keep your sweet potatoes fresh throughout the coming winter, then you should take a peek at burlap bags. These bags are a great addition to your root cellar or pantry, especially if you’re looking for a way to store dozens of pounds of potatoes with ease.
What’s also great about these bags is that they’re biodegradable, which means that your purchase of a storage device for your potatoes doesn’t have to be environmentally detrimental. When you’re done storing your potatoes, if you don’t intend to reuse the sacks, you can simply compost them and let them return to the earth.
The Middle-of-the-Road Option
If you’re in the market for something to hold your potatoes and want to get something a little nicer than a couple of burlap sacks, then consider buying ventilated potato keeper. These potato bins are perfect for people who only want to keep a few pounds of sweet potatoes over the winter.
What’s especially nice about this potato bin is the fact that it is not just handy—it’s also attractive. While burlap bags are great for practicality and affordability, they’re not necessarily the prettiest addition to your kitchen. This potato keeper helps save your sweet potatoes over the winter and keeps your kitchen looking neat and tidy.
The Top-of-the-Line Option
If you have the money to splurge on a potato-holder that’s attractive, convenient, and spacious, your best choice is a wicker storage basket. These baskets are an awesome option for anyone who likes the rustic or modern look but also wants to make sure they don’t have to straighten up their kitchen every time they bake sweet potatoes.
What’s great about the Kouboo potato storage basket is that you can simply grab one from the front of the basket instead of having to reach in and dig around to the bottom. This means that the potatoes all stay fresh. You can add more on top while circulating the potatoes properly through the bottom.
Put Your Sweet Potatoes in the Dark
Once you’ve figured out what kind of holding device you want to use for your stash of sweet potatoes, then it’s time to find a place in the dark where you can keep them for the winter. Keeping your potatoes in the dark is important to maintain your sweet potatoes’ health, flavor, and safety.
Why Potatoes Should Be Kept in the Dark
An article from the University of Idaho Extension does a great job explaining why and how you should store your potatoes over the winter 4. What’s important to note about storing sweet potatoes is that they’re still alive. Unlike a plant such as tomatoes or oranges, when you pick potatoes out of the ground, they’re still growing.
Because your potato plants are still growing, to make sure they “live” as long as possible, it is important to keep them in a place that replicates their optimal growing conditions as best you can. If you didn’t already know this, potatoes grow underground. When you pull up a potato, you expose it to light, which speeds up the decay process.
According to an article from Michigan State University, exposing potatoes (majorly white potatoes) to sunlight causes the potatoes to emit a toxic compound called solanine. Solanine is poisonous to humans if consumed in large amounts. If you’re planning on keeping sweet potatoes for the winter, keep them out of the light 5.
How to Keep Your Sweet Potatoes in the Dark
After you’ve picked your sweet potato storage device of choice, you must keep the potatoes in the dark for as long as possible. While exposing them to light every now and again to grab one or two for dinner is okay, you shouldn’t leave them out on the counter like you would an apple or banana.
If you have a small number of potatoes that you’re keeping over the winter, you can simply stash them in the back of a cabinet that doesn’t get much attention. This will ensure that the cabinet door doesn’t get left open and so light doesn’t leak in. You can also leave them in a closet pantry or closet.
For those of us who like to store up larger quantities of sweet potatoes over the winter, consider storing them in your basement where you can still have access to them, but they don’t have to be exposed to prolonged lighting.
Keep Your Sweet Potatoes Humid
Along with being kept in a dark place, you’ll have to ensure that your sweet potatoes are also humid. Though this may seem counterintuitive to people who are used to storing dry goods like flour and oats in bulk (supplies that should be kept dry), potatoes need humidity in order to maintain moisture and stay fresh.
In their article, the University of Idaho Extension does a great job of comparing the ins and outs of storing potatoes in a commercial agricultural setting to potatoes’ comparative needs when stored at home. The optimal humidity for storing potatoes in an industrial setting is around 90-95% (according to UIdaho)—it is ideal to get as close to that as you can in your own home or apartment 6.
If you’re just storing a few potatoes for the winter, you likely won’t have to worry about your cabinet or closet’s humidity because there’s not much you can do to alter it. Just be mindful of any dryness as it appears on your potatoes.
However, if you’re storing massive quantities of sweet potatoes, it is important that you regulate the humidity of your storing area. If you’ve dedicated a section of your basement or even an entire room of your house to the storage of sweet potatoes, consider purchasing a humidifier with a gauge.
Ensure Your Sweet Potatoes are Cool
As you learn to keep your potatoes in a dark and humid place, it’s most crucial to make sure that the dark and humid place you choose is also chilly. When it comes to regulating your sweet potato storage unit’s temperature, you’ll have to be wise not to pick a spot that gets too hot (think near an oven) or too cold (like a refrigerator).
The University of Georgia gives some great guidelines for what they believe to be their ideal sweet potato storage protocol. They suggest that people store their sweet potatoes anywhere from 55°F to 60°F (about 13°C to 15°C) 7. This comes from their ideal commercial potato storage advice for larger industrial farms.
It’s important to keep your potatoes from getting warm because, according to UIdaho, exposing potatoes to warmth leaves them more susceptible to spoilage and diseases, which, as mentioned earlier, can ruin the entire batch of potatoes if you’re not careful.
However, it’s also crucial not to chill your sweet potatoes too much. Storing potatoes at temperatures that are too cold can mess with the cell structure of the potato. If you freeze your potatoes, the cells will break down, and you’ll be left with a mushy mess once you thaw them out.
The best places you can store your sweet potatoes are in a shed over the winter that has some sort of light insulation, as well as in a cooler part of your house that doesn’t see much light like a mudroom or dark entryway. Consider unusual places that don’t get much sunshine or heat.
Check Them Every Few Weeks (and Let Them Breathe)
Once you’ve established your stash of sweet potatoes for the winter, leave them alone! You don’t have to worry about rotating them or taking care of them—just let them be. It’s okay to reach into the pile every now and again to gather some to eat, but other than that, don’t rustle around too much.
However, if you don’t plan on eating any of your sweet potatoes over the winter, you should make sure to take a quick peek at your sweet potatoes every couple of weeks. By checking in on your potatoes, you can make sure that nothing is rotting, molding, or leaking.
If you do find any sweet potatoes that have gone past their time, it’s best to dispose of them as soon as possible—that way, the bacteria that’s caused them to go bad won’t leak onto other potatoes. Be mindful of spillage from rotten potatoes and clean it up as soon as you spot it.
If you discover your potatoes are rotting and you’re not sure what to do about it, the best thing to do would be to split the batch up into a couple different boxes or bags. It may be that you’ve simply packed your sweet potatoes too tightly. Allow them some breathing room, and double-check that your potatoes aren’t getting light or heat 8.
Storing sweet potatoes and other root vegetables for the winter is a great way to practice sustainability and self-reliance. Whether you’ve grown them yourself or simply gotten them in bulk from a grocery store, you’re participating in an age-old practice of food preservation.
Here are some things you should keep in mind for when you’re storing your sweet potatoes in colder weather:
- Buy or grow quality sweet potatoes.
- Get rid of any rotten ones.
- Pick a suitable container.
- Keep your potatoes in the dark.
- Make sure they stay humid.
- Keep them cool.
- Ensure they have room to “breathe.”
- Check them every few weeks or so.
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- Utah State University: Sweet Potatoes
- Michigan State University Extension: Using, Storing and Preserving Sweet Potatoes
- Fruits & Veggies: Sweet Potato
- University of Idaho Extension: Options for String Potatoes at Home
- Michigan State University: Storing potatoes for quality and food safety
- University of Idaho Extension: Options for Storing Potatoes at Home
- University of Georgia: Harvesting, Curing and Storage Of Sweet Potatoes
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Glycoalkaloid and calystegine levels in table potato cultivars subjected to wounding, light, and heat treatments