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storing potatoes for seed

Posted by KristenMarie Z5/New Mexico (My Page) on
Thu, Sep 30, 04 at 1:09


We'd really like to start growing and selling potatoes along with some of our other crops but golly seed potato is pricey, especially if you want to experiment with varieties... But I am utterly flummoxed about how to store potatoes as seed (although I AM going to try this year).

So, everything you read says it's a bad idea to save your own seed potatoes because of disease and last year I got sternly lectured over on the Harvest forum about how I'd just get diseased nasty potatoes if I tried to do this. And this year, I wrote to Ronnigers and asked about this, and got a vague note back about how "only the 2nd through 5th generations" produce good potatoes. HUH??? Neither of these things make sense. Seed potatoes have to come from somewhere -- seed potato companies dont' wave their magic wands and create disease-free first-generation potatoes. If potatoes were crappy after the 5th generation, we wouldn't have potatoes -- they wouldn't exist. There HAS to be a good way to store potatoes without getting diseases or losing vigor. I mean, geez, it's a staple food crop world-wide. It has to be simple, even! So if anyone can explain this to me, or tell me what miraculous techniques seed potato companies use to save their potatoes-- or perhaps what you use, in your very own root cellar! -- I'd appreciate it.

Whew. Sorry so longwinded, this has been bothering me a long time.


Follow-Up Postings:

RE: storing potatoes for seed

These days, virus free potatoes come from tissue culture techniques. These are the first generation. The same thing is done with sweet potatoes. Some commercial garlic producers are evidently doing the same thing. I don't really understand the process, but they are able to get rid of the viruses by heat treating (I think that is the technique) in the lab.

I don't know how long these techniques have been used. Certainly potatoes were around and used a very long time before these techniques became available. How bad things might get and how much reduction in yield you would get over time I don't know. I have seen figures on the reduction of yield in Beauregard sweet potatoes a number of years after the variety was introduced. It was quite a bit.

In sweet potatoes, I have read that taking stem cuttings reduces the transmission of viruses.


RE: storing potatoes for seed

It isn't the storage that makes for disease, unless it's too damp and things simply rot. It's the stuff in the soil that gives the disease(s), which the tubers get as they grow. A lot of commercial growers grow in the same fields, year after year, which multiplies any disease and the chance that the tubers will pick it up. If you start out with really healthy (NOT freshly manured!!), fertile soil, that hasn't been growing potatoes (or tomatoes, or eggplant, or any other solanum family member), in the past few years, and can rotate crops over a 3-5 year rotation, then you should have a pretty good chance of keeping diseases to a minimum. Storing clean tubers, after they have cured and dried out well, in a relatively dry place, that won't freeze nor get much over 40F over the course of the winter, should allow you to keep growing from your own seed potatoes for a number of years. But I would think that eventually, you would have to go back and get new seed potatoes, as and if production fell off. Growing the older varieties, which have been grown for generations under the same conditions you want to use, should improve your chances of keeping a healthy stock. You could use a staggered system of getting new potatoes, and try new varieties at the same time?

RE: storing potatoes for seed

The primary reasons commercial producers have these issues is that they only grow one variety for maximum production in the same field over and over. Everything we know about growing healthy gardens tells us that is just plain dumb.

The best way to limit disease is to grow many varieties, keep the soil organically and rotate where we plant each species while avoiding planting similar species in the same place.

I have not tried to store potatoes yet but I applaud your wisdom in not listening to those who think we must use "modern" techniques when there have always been natural alternatives.

RE: storing potatoes for seed

For about 7 years I stored my own fingerling seed and never had any reduction in quality, quantity or disease issues.
Before fall rain I dug the last of 1 or 2 100 ft beds that were grown for market and selected healthy, seed size spuds. I didn't wash them but brushed off any clods and put them in a wax box in the walk in for the winter.
Come May(ish) they came out of the fridge, greened up and went in the ground.
Whenever possible I try to rotate out solanaceae for 3 years in the same spot in the field.

Since then, i've moved and now grow in a wetter climate but will hopefully start saving seed again (if I ever get them in the ground).

RE: storing potatoes for seed

Where do you folks store your potato seed to keep the right temp and humidity? If I put mine in the shed they would freeze and in the basement would be too warm. I am looking for ideas because shipping on new seed is too expensive.

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