Chitting potatoes is the process of growing string healthy shoots on the tubers before you plant them. We’ve all seen what happens when you leave some old potatoes and they start to grow long white shoots, well that’s what you don’t want. With chitted potatoes you should have nice stocky green shoots that have had access to plenty of light.
If you have only a few kilos then standing them in egg boxes is ideal, if there are shoots already then keep these upwards otherwise just put them in length ways so that they’re not too close to each other. Otherwise if you’ve many more then something airy like the trays that bread is delivered in work very well, again make sure that the tubers have enough space and aren’t crammed in. I find that if I’ve some large tubers with plenty of eyes then I can halve them as both halves will quite happily grow shoots ready to plant later on.
As the sprouts appear it’s best to rub off all but 3 or 4 so that you get fewer string shoots. If not you’ll get more potatoes but they’ll be smaller due to them all competing for nutrients and space in the soil. If you have to postpone planting them due to inclement weather then move them to somewhere cooler so that the growth slows down, as the shoots grow you’ll see that the tuber will start to soften and shrivel, this is as the food source is used up to grow the shoots.
When the weather is warm enough and there are unlikely to be any frosts then it’s a good time to plant them out. I have found that even with a light frost after the plants were out of the ground and growing cloching them was enough to keep them from harm. Potatoes are very tender and will suffer if the leaves are exposed to a frost.
Make sure that you get good certified seed potatoes too. There are a number of diseases that are carried over in the tubers themselves and these can easily ruin a whole crop, also if you’re growing in a shared space such as an allotment can ruin the crops of your neighbours too. Certainly in the UK these have been certified by a government body to guarantee that they are disease free, this doesn’t mean that they won’t contract something once they’ve been planted but you certainly have the edge over some random tubers bought from a greengrocer.
To chit ot not to chit?
There is a big question about whether to bother chitting or not, there are however some sound differences between doing it and not doing it. Whether to or not though is really up to you. If you chit your potatoes from my experience you’ll get an earlier and slightly larger crop, this means that you can hopefully get them out of the ground before the worst of the blight is likely to hit. Or if you’re growing earlies then you can get something on your plate in June, I’m growing Swift as an early this year and can’t wait to be eating them in a good salad.
This is a way of getting really early potatoes is you have a little space that is frost free and light enough to let them grow. The basis of this is to get them growing indoors in compost bags that have been turned inside out. The reason for this is that the black on the inside of these bags will warm up the soil a lot quicker. Roll the bag down to about half way and fill with a soil based peat free compost then bury a couple of tubers in about 8-12 inches, then add another 6 inches of compost on top and put in a greenhouse. When the plants are about 6 inches tall roll up the bag a bit and bury the plants up to their necks in more compost. Keep doing this until you run out of bag. Let the plants grow and if you’re lucky you’ll have something to eat by mid May. Simply make a hole in the side of the bag and reach in to harvest or if you’d rather just tip the whole lot out and store them as you would normally.