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Chitting Potatoes

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How to chit seed potatoes for earlier and heavier cropping.

by GPI


What are the little green tomato-like fruits that my potato plants produced last year, are they the potato seeds, and can I plant them? Questions I have been asked on occasion, to which I reply, “yes those (poisonous) fruits contained potato seeds, but it is a real troublesome job to grow a crop from them”.


The seeds produced at the top of the potato plant are occasionally used for research into new variety breeding, but they are never sown for cropping even by professional farmers. You instead should start your potatoes from small whole potatoes of certified seed stock, or in times of seed shortage from seed pieces (potatoes cut into sections). Seed potatoes are available for the three cropping periods, these are first earlies, second earlies and Main Crop varieties, their names referring to the length of time they take to crop and not when they are planted, as all types are planted at the same time.


To give your seed potatoes a head start in terms of growth, you can carry out a technique known as chitting. Also known as sprouting, chitting forces the seed potatoes to produce buds before they are even planted, an encouragement that results in earlier and heavier cropping. Earlier cropping has the added bonus of getting your first and second earlies in and out of the soil before potato blight becomes a problem.



Chitted potatoes with good bud formation ready for planting, photo / picture / image.

Notice the central potato is a cut section, this will grow as well as the whole potatoes.


To chit your seed potatoes, you simply lay them in a container to produce buds for a few weeks before sowing. There are of course a few rules to ensure strong buds are produced in the shortest amount of time, rules which cover the container used and chitting location.


The container.

New upright buds are produced much better on potatoes whose majority of "eyes" are facing upwards, the "eyes" are those small depressions found on each potato. The part of the potato with the most bud producing eyes is commonly called the “rose” end and it is to be found at either of the two blunter ends of the spud. Maintaining the upright position of the potato for chitting is where careful container selection comes in.


Try these three solutions…

icon_arrow.gif 1. Use a box or seed tray filled with hay or straw, which you can screw the potatoes into right-side up.


icon_arrow.gif 2. Ask your local shopkeeper for a few apple boxes with the foam apple trays intact, these are ideal for supporting larger seed potatoes.


icon_arrow.gif 3. Save your old egg boxes, rip the tops off, and plonk your potatoes into them right side up.


Chitting location or where to chit potatoes

You know when you loose some potatoes at the back of the cupboard, only to discover them again a month or two later. Well, the long white buds which can be found growing from the spuds at that stage are a prime example of what we don’t want to produce. This soft bud growth is caused by the darkness, so for our chitting potatoes to produce short sturdy buds we must instead leave them in an area of natural light.


A windowsill without direct sunlight in a cool room or garage (8-10°C) is a perfect location for chitting, the coolness in these areas also prevent soft stringy bud growth. Chitted in this way, it normally takes about four to six weeks for your seed potatoes to produces buds approx 2.5cm (0.5-1in) long, ready to be planted out as soon as the soil is workable during March and April.


Be warned though that chitting in an outdoor shed sometimes leaves your potatoes open to attack by rats and other vermin. This is shown in all its horror in this post..... Rats attack potatoes , by one of our members Organicgrowingpains


Now that you know how to chit potatoes for earlier and heavier cropping you will not have to rely on suppliers having 'pre-chitted' seed available when you need it. You will just produce your own. icon_smile.gif

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Potatoes come in three basic varieties, earlies, second earlies and maincrop. They are usually all planted in or around March, but can be planted as late as July or even August. With a bit of planning, and early chitting, you can aim to have potatoes being harvested at anytime from May/June until Halloween. I think it is a very achievable aim for us to have a constant supply of spuds during the harvesting period, with maybe a monthly harvest for distribution amongst our members and residents.

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