Yes, it’s that time of the year again. It’s time to start getting seed potatoes ready for growing. The first stage in that process is what we call ‘chitting’ potatoes.
Watch the video below to see my best advice for chitting seed potatoes:
What are seed potatoes?
Seed potatoes are ones specially grown for planting. They are certified virus-free, which reduces any risks they may carry, which supermarket potatoes could potentially have.
It is always better to grow from seed potatoes. You can buy seed potatoes from late winter onwards. As supermarket potatoes are not certified as virus-free, planting them could lead to your soil becoming contaminated.
Some of the viruses potatoes are susceptible to, such as potato blight, can contaminate your soil for many years. If you do choose to plant potatoes you have purchased from the supermarket despite the risk, try planting them in isolated containers to protect your soil from long-lasting damage.
Seed potatoes of early varieties should be started to grow indoors in February so that they can be planted outside in March/April. In order to ensure you get the seed potato varieties that you want, buy them early.
What is chitting?
Chitting simply means encouraging the seed potatoes to start growing before they’re ready to plant outside and the good news is that it’s really easy to do. All you need, apart from your seed potatoes, are some shallow trays or old egg boxes.
Look carefully at each potato to find the end of the potato where most of the ‘eyes’ are crowded together. This is the top of the potato and those ‘eyes’ are the potato’s dormant buds.
Allow potatoes to grow sprouts before they’re planted, which gives them a head-start and reduces the amount of time required to wait before they crop. This is great if you are an impatient gardener. It also means that you are almost guaranteed to have a better harvest later on.
How do you chit seed potatoes?
You should see the potatoes start to sprout after a couple of weeks and they’ll be ready to plant out when the shoots have reached about 3cm in length. Ideally, leave just three or four of the strongest-looking sprouts on each potato, and remove the others by rubbing them off the tuber.
Be careful not to keep the tubers too warm or too dark as this will result in long spindly shoots which are not good for encouraging large numbers of potatoes to grow.
Additionally, any room or space in your house that doesn’t get much lower than 10°C would work well for chitting seed potatoes. Examples include garages, porches, conservatories or in a bright windowsill.
Also, be careful not to plant them outside too early as those tender shoots can freeze and be damaged. The potato will produce more shoots, but it will have set back the plant growth and production of the crop by several weeks.
When preparing the outside area where the potatoes will ultimately be grown make sure that you plant them in rows running north to south. This way the plants will get the maximum amount now sunlight as they grow but will not shade other crops.
You will know it has sprouted once the eyes have short, knobbly, and purple/green sprouts appearing from the potato.
Start chitting from late January or February to get potatoes ready to plant. It’s an easy job for the month and will help give your potatoes a head-start this growing season.
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
Leave A Comment