Chitting potatoes

One of the first jobs of the veg gardening year is forcing and chitting potatoes. Chitting potatoes means sprouting the potato tuber – putting it, most eyes upright, in a light, cool but frost-free place at about 50F (10C). I put half my seed potatoes for chitting in the porch by the window and half in the greenhouse.

A garage or porch, slightly warmed by the house, is ideal for chitting potatoes. Light is important so don't shove them off to the back of a shed.

If you have only a few potato tubers, line them up in egg cartons. If you’re doing lots of chitting, put the seed potatoes in shallow, open boxes, like the slatted-bottomed ones you get at the greengrocers. Divide this up with sections of folded newspaper to keep the tubers upright and slot them into that.

There is great debate about the necessity of chitting potatoes, but in our comparisons at Perch Hill, it does seem to ensure a quicker and slightly larger harvest.

With early varieties it gets them off to a flying start, so we can begin the harvest by the end of June and we now do it for blight-prone main crop potatoes such as the very tasty 'Pink Fir Apple’. It makes them grow faster and form larger potato tubers once planted out, so we can get in a crop of potatoes in August or early September, before the worst of the blight takes hold.

Keep an eye on your potatoes whilst they chit and wait for strong, short green shoots to appear (4-6 weeks) about 2-3cms long from the eyes of each tuber. You don’t want the white, spaghetti-like things you get when potatoes are kept in the dark in a cupboard, but stout green and pink things.

If you want to maximize the size of your potatoes, rub off all but three or four at the top end of the tuber before planting out. If you leave all the shoots intact, but you’ll end up with lots of small ones. It’s up to you to decide.

Find out the results of our 2010 potato trials top see which potato varieties are the best, and also learn how to grow potatoes in bags.