On the subject of potatoes one of the questions we are most frequently asked is whether or not chitting is necessary. Our response is that first early and second early varieties are always best chitted however with main crop varieties it is not essential. Chitting your early potatoes will be giving them a head start which will result in an earlier, slightly improved harvest.
So what is potato chitting?
Chitting is the process of encouraging seed potatoes to produce sturdy sprouts before planting. This sprouting process is speeded up by giving the seed potatoes plenty of light and warmth and the result will be an earlier and slightly better harvest.
Chitting should begin about 6 weeks before planting so from late January. Planting will be when the soil is starting to warm up so between mid-March to early April, dependant on where you live.
Seed potatoes have a blunt end, called the rose end, with eyes from which the sprouts will form. Place the potatoes singly in the sections of old egg boxes or in seed trays, in a single layer, with the rose end uppermost. Then place them in a light, frost free room such as a spare bedroom or greenhouse.
Ideally the sprouts should remain small, about 2.5cm long, and knobbly and be a green/purple colour. If they grow long and white then there is insufficient light. Too many sprouts will result in small potatoes, you really only need 2 to 3 sprouts with earlies and 3 to 4 with main crop varieties. Any extra sprouts can be carefully rubbed off although some gardeners prefer to cut them out with a sharp knife to prevent them re-sprouting.
When the time for planting arrives do handle the potatoes with care. You don’t want to knock off any of those sturdy sprouts!