Sprouting Seed Potatoes – Learn More About Chitting Potatoes

Sprouting Seed Potatoes – Learn More About Chitting Potatoes

By: Heather Rhoades

Do you wish you could get your potatoes harvested a little earlier? If you try chitting potatoes, or sprouting seed potatoes, before you plant them, you can harvest your potatoes up to three weeks sooner. Sprouting potatoes before planting can also help you if you have trouble getting your potatoes to reach maturity in your area. Below you will find the steps for how to sprout potatoes before you plant them in the ground.

What Do Potatoes Need to Sprout?

Potatoes are a little like seedlings in that they need light to grow. But, unlike seedlings, they do not need a growing medium like soil to sprout. All you will need for sprouting seed potatoes is the seed potatoes and a bright window or a fluorescent lamp.

Steps for How to Sprout a Potato Before You Plant It

You will start sprouting potatoes three to four weeks before you will be able to plant your potatoes out in the garden.

Buy your seed potatoes from a reputable seed seller. While you can sprout potatoes that are from the grocery store, the grocery store may have diseases that will kill the plant. It’s best to grow seed potatoes that have been treated to prevent these diseases.

The next step in sprouting or chitting potatoes is to place the potatoes in a bright location. A sunny window or under a fluorescent lamp are excellent choices for this.

In order to keep the sprouting seed potatoes from rolling around, some people place the potatoes in an open egg carton. This will keep the potatoes stable and still so that their fragile sprouts do not get broken.

In about a week, you should see signs that the potatoes are sprouting. After three to four weeks, you can plant the fully sprouted potatoes into the garden in the same way you would plant unsprouted potatoes. Just make sure that you plant the seed potatoes with the sprouts facing up and be careful not to break the sprouts.

Now that you know how to sprout a potato, you can enjoy your potato harvest a little earlier this year. Sprouting potatoes early, also known as chitting potatoes, can be useful in the garden.

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Chitting Potatoes: How To Sprout A Potato For Early Planting - garden

Earlies or new potatoes are quick off the mark and are ready 15 - 16 weeks after planting. If you have a polytunnel or greenhouse then you can plant them in December or January and have very early potatoes on the table in March and April - depending on the weather.

Chitting potatoes

Chitting is basically another word for sprouting. By getting the potato to sprout you have started off the growing process so that the plants will have a head start when you put them in the soil. In theory you will then get your potatoes a bit earlier.

Shoots on a chitted potato

Potatoes will start chitting when exposed to light and heat, so place seed somewhere warm and light. A temperature of around 8C-10C is fine. Avoid locations that might get frost. Place the seed potatoes in a single layer with a large amount of eyes facing up. If you’ve only got a small amount of seed potatoes, recycling old egg boxes for this purpose is ideal. For larger amounts, use seed trays or wooden boxes. Keep the tubers upright by supporting them against each other.

Once your seed potatoes have got 2-3 good sized ‘chits’ or sprouts on them (about 2cm), it’s time to plant. The sprouts should be small, knobbly, and green/purple in colour. If you end up with long, white coloured sprouts, it means there’s not enough light.

Soil preparation for planting early potatoes

Potatoes should be grown in deep, fertile soil that is well drained and contains plenty of organic matter. Potatoes need potash so dig in plenty of well rotted manure, compost and seaweed or approved organic potash fertilizer. Do not add lime - potatoes dislike lime and its presence in the soil appears to encourage scab.

Planting early potatoes

For very early earlies you will need to plant in a polytunnel or glasshouse. Dig trenches 8/12cms deep, putting the soil to one side. Place the potatoes in the trench with the shoots pointing upwards, cover with soil. Don't plant too deep as it is colder for the young plants. Plant Earlies 30cm apart in rows 40-50cm apart. You can also plant in largepots/containers or even rolled down compost sacks (make sure to put holes in first). These should be filled with good quality potting compost and a small amount of general purpose organic feed (such as Greenvale).

General care

  • When the shoots appear, use a draw/ridging hoe to pile up the soil over them (earthing up). The shoots should be just buried and a small ridge created on either side. This should be done about three times, or until the haulm (foliage) is too big to cover. Earthing up protects the tubers from frost and reduces the number of green potatoes. It also helps get rid of weeds. If using containers then top up with soil or compost as the shoots appear.
Harvesting early potatoes

Harvesting your potato crop

The wait is finally over! When the plants are looking mature and have been growing for between 80 and 100 days, have a look to see how the crop is doing - you should be ready to harvest some delicious early potatoes.

What Do Potatoes Need To Sprout?

1. Organic Potato Seeds. It’s best to use organically grown potatoes as seed. Chemically grown potatoes have a sprout retardant that slows down sprouting or completely stops them.

2. Darkness and Light. Let’s understand this point here. Potatoes like to sprout in darkness. But you need to expose them to light when they begin sprouting. They are like other seedlings they will need light to grow. You can keep your potato seeds near a bright window or a fluorescent light to sprout them.

3. Moisture and Warmth. To speed up the sprouting process, keep your potato seeds in an area with good warmth and moisture. Do not put them in standing water as they will rot. You can layer them in damp leaves indoors to create the right environment. When the sprouts are about 1 cm long, they are an ideal length for planting.

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I plant them approx. 3 weeks before LF date.
By the time they are up, probably the danger of frost is over. But in case when they are up and you get frost warning, You will have to cover them, otherwise they will be killed. One year that happened to me and I covered them but missed couple. They were zapped. This was back in GA. There, you have to plant as early as possible so that you harvest them before July heat. But if you have cooler summer weather , there is no need to rush it.

How to chit seed potatoes for an early crop

It is best to chit seed potatoes six weeks before planting time. Early potato varieties grown for new potatoes such as ‘Rocket’ and ‘Swift’ are the first ones to chit, ready for planting in late March.

What are seed potatoes?

Seed potatoes are small potatoes that are planted in spring to produce a new potato plant.

Can I use potatoes bought from the supermarket as seed potatoes?

It is best not to because many shop bought potatoes may have been treated to prevent them from sprouting. They will also be more prone to disease. Buy seed potatoes from a specialist and you will have many different varieties to choose from. Order soon because sought after varieties will be scarce by early spring.

Reputable suppliers of seed potatoes will sell Safe Haven certified stock. This means that the seed has been grown under a scheme that helps protect seed potatoes from disease.

What is chitting seed potatoes?

To chit seed potatoes is to place them in a frost-free, well-lit room to encourage them to start producing shoots before they are planted.

Why should I chit seed potatoes?

Chitting seed potatoes helps to get the plants ready for harvesting earlier. This will allow you to enjoy the delicious taste of fresh new potatoes as early as possible.

How do I do it?

Place each seed potato ‘rose end’ up in a tray (or in an old egg box). The ‘rose end’ is the end that has the most dimples (called ‘eyes’). This is where most of the shoots will sprout from. Place the tray in a well-lit place indoors at a temperature of 7-10C. Exposure to lower temperatures can damage the shoots.

When are they ready to plant?

Once the new shoots on the seed potatoes are around 5cm long they are ready for planting out in pots or in the ground. Longer shoots will easily break so plant as soon as possible once the shoots reach 5cm in length.

Now that your potatoes are ready to go, find out how to prevent potato blight or discover more tips for a bumper potato crop.

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4. Amend the Soil if the pH is Not Ideal

Potatoes will do best in soils with a pH of between 5.2 and 6.4. If you have a neutral or slightly alkaline soil, you can gently amend the pH to improve your potato harvest.

To make soil slightly more acidic you can:

  • Add plenty of organic matter. Especially pine needles, oak leaves, etc…
  • Use liquid feeds with vinegar, citrus and other acidic substances around potato plants.
  • And, if your soil has problems with alkalinity, add sulphur to your soil.

15. Pick The Perfect Moment to Harvest Your Crop

Finally, in order to get the best potato harvest possible, it is important to time things right. You should pick the perfect moment to harvest your crop to get the best results.

First earlies will be ready to harvest from late-May- July. With these varieties, you are ideally looking to harvest when the tubers are around the size of hens eggs. When the plants flower, this is usually a sign that the first earlies are ready for harvest.

But not all varietals will bloom. How long plants have been in the ground is usually a better indicator. Check time to harvest for the variety you are growing.

If in doubt, simply feel gently in the soil/mulch around your plants. You should be able to feel whether or not tubers are a suitable size for harvest.

With maincrop potatoes for storage, you will usually wait until the foliage turns yellow and then cut back the foliage. After ten days or so, you will then unearth the tubers, and leave them for a few hours before storing them.

Make sure you don’t let all of your hard work go to waste and learn how to correctly store and preserve your potatoes so they last all year round.

Think about all the tips and tricks above, and you should have a bumper potato harvest wherever you live this year.

As you tend your garden and improve its fertility year on year, your potato harvest should continue to improve over time.

Growing the perfect potatoes may be a challenge. But remember, even a novice gardener can successfully grow some potatoes in their garden.

Elizabeth Waddington is a writer, permaculture designer and green living consultant. She is a practical, hands-on gardener, with a background in philosophy: (an MA in English-Philosophy from St Andrews University). She has long had an interest in ecology, gardening and sustainability and is fascinated by how thought can generate action, and ideas can generate positive change.

In 2014, she and her husband moved to their forever home in the country. She graduated from allotment gardening to organically managing 1/3 of an acre of land, including a mature fruit orchard,which she has turned into a productive forest garden. The yield from the garden is increasing year on year – rapidly approaching an annual weight in produce of almost 1 ton.

She has filled the rest of the garden with a polytunnel, a vegetable patch, a herb garden, a wildlife pond, woodland areas and more. Since moving to the property she has also rescued many chickens from factory farms, keeping them for their eggs, and moved much closer to self-sufficiency. She has made many strides in attracting local wildlife and increasing biodiversity on the site.

When she is not gardening, Elizabeth spends a lot of time working remotely on permaculture garden projects around the world. Amongst other things, she has designed private gardens in regions as diverse as Canada, Minnesota, Texas, the Arizona/California desert, and the Dominican Republic, commercial aquaponics schemes, food forests and community gardens in a wide range of global locations.

In addition to designing gardens, Elizabeth also works in a consultancy capacity, offering ongoing support and training for gardeners and growers around the globe. She has created booklets and aided in the design of Food Kits to help gardeners to cool and warm climates to grow their own food, for example. She is undertaking ongoing work for NGO Somalia Dryland Solutions and a number of other non governmental organisations, and works as an environmental consultant for several sustainable companies.

Watch the video: Chitting Potatoes Why and How