Friday, 20 February 2015

Chitting Potatoes

At the beginning of the month I bought my seed potatoes, and it's that time of year again when the pretty coloured bottles and candles on the bathroom windowsill get packed away...


...to make room to chit my potatoes!


Chitting potatoes makes them develop nice strong shoots so that they start growing faster when you stick them in the ground. Just lay them out in a bright place. Too dark and they'll grow long spindly shoots that break easily, but put them in direct sunlight and the delicate new shoots might shrivel. This north-east facing windowsill is perfect. They get damp whenever someone has a shower, but they dry out again and don't seem to mind. Here's what they look like after nearly three weeks. You can see tiny rolls of new green leaves starting to form, and the little-white-bump beginnings of new roots.


Some people like to debate whether chitting is a good thing to do or a waste of the potatoes' energy which creates a risk of shocking the spuds when you put them in the cold ground. Some major gardening organisations have run tests to see how much difference it made, and found it generally didn't. But I mainly do it because, well, they've gotta go somewhere, right? And I do like to buy them early, so I can get the varieties I want and I'm not left with the shrivelled up manky ones, and it does help to check that they're all healthy and find out which eyes are strongest (I'll plant those facing upwards), and it's good to feel like I'm making a start on the growing season nice and early, even if it is just putting potatoes on a windowsill... I've also read somewhere that chitting stimulates production of solanine in the spuds, which makes them less appealing to any hungry rodents that might eat them after planting, and stops them rotting in the soil. Some people like to sit their seed potatoes in the cups of egg boxes, or even buy special chitting trays, to keep them all neat and tidy with their best eyes standing straight up. I just cram them all together, eyes up-ish - they take up less room that way, they don't mind touching each other and the chits will always grow upwards...

We've grown Kestrel potatoes for a few years now - they seemed to do best on our plot and they taste delicious, especially as mash and roasties. But when we tried Pentland Crown on a quarter of our potato bed last year in the search for a better jacket potato, they did really well too, and suffered much less scab and took longer to soften and sprout in storage, so we decided it was time to branch out and see what we were missing with some more new varieties...


So our maincrop spuds this year are a third King Edward, a third Sante and a third Pentland Crown. We bought them from our local independent garden centre, Aylett Nurseries, where you can select individual tubers and fill a bag for a set price. We got 60 tubers for £3.95! Much better than buying online!

We did buy some seed spuds online too, though. At FoodSmiles last year I was really impressed by a particular first early potato called Accent, which gave huge yields and tasted lovely, so I sought it out and found it at Tuckers Seeds. They arrived last week too, and are chitting on another windowsill. They'll be grown at home, in sacks.


I've also found some leftover seed potatoes from last year which I left in the summer house when we didn't have room for them. I can't remember what they are and I'm not sure I'll grow them, but you can see, even a year after buying them, they're still raring to go, having been kept in the right bright but cool conditions!


3 comments:

Mark Willis said...

That's an interesting and informative post, especially for anyone who is new to growing potatoes. I like to grow several different varieties, because different ones respond differently to weather conditions, and no two years are ever the same. I am particularly fond of Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple.

Roger Distill said...

Fascinating! I'd never heard of chitting. I thought you'd made a typo in the title, and meant "chipping"!

Anonymous said...

Hello,how many times can you chit a seed potatoe as they have chitted too early. Thank you

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