In late winter while there might be snow still lying deep in the garden, it is time to start getting seed potatoes ready for planting.
If you are new to growing tatties you might not be aware that you are about to lose the use of your windowsills for the next month. This is because there is a vital pre-planting stage for potato growers, known as ‘chitting’.
By encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting, you are giving your potato plants a headstart and maximising your chances of a great potato harvest later in the season.
Choosing which variety to grow is not always that easy. there are so may different options. I always choose at least one bag of ‘first earlys’. As the name suggests, ‘first early potatoes’ grow quickly and can be cropped early in the season before the dreaded potato blight can take hold. For later crops choose blight resistant varieties. Look for the sort of potatoes you want to eat though. There is no point in growing your own if you are not particularly interested in eating them once it is time to pull them out of the soil.
Open up your pack of seed potatoes and place them in a suitable tray. Egg boxes are the perfect choice, but ordinary garden seed trays will be fine too.
Place them in a light and cool place such as a north facing windowsill. The potatoes need some light but also need to be shielded from harsh direct sunlight.
If the potatoes have already begun to sprout, using your thumb, carefully rub off all but three of the sprouting eyes of each potato. When choosing which to leave, keep the thicker vigorous sprouts all pointing in roughly the same direction. Remove the weedy, weak or undeveloped sprouts.
Handle your chitted potatoes with care
The potatoes will be ready to be planted out in soil when the shoots are around one inch (2.2cm) long. When you plant them, be very gentle with your chitted potatoes. Set them into the trench without breaking the shoots and ensure the shoots are pointing upwards as far as possible.
When you cover them with soil, do it gently and don’t stamp the soil down on top of them with heavy boots. A little gentleness right now is what is required.
Give them a really good watering and wait for the shoots to appear. When they do you need to start earthing up. This is the process of adding more soil or mulch to ensure that as the little potatoes start to form the are not exposed to the light (which turns them both an ugly shade of green and also makes them toxic)
Potatoes Update – 12 weeks later..
I just wanted to update this post with a photo I just took of the same potato plants as they are looking this morning. I have been growing them in bags for the last 12 weeks, adding more soil and compost as the plants appeared. Once they got to the top of the bag (2 weeks ago) I stopped adding any more soil and watched the shoots explode into the light.
From the ground to the top of the tallest plant is currently 102cm (40 inches) and they haven’t finished growing yet. The bag on the left has the long thin potatoes (a variety called pink fir apple) and as this is an early variety there are already some flowers about to blossom.
Once the flowers have come it will be time to check the potatoes. There is a very handy velcro flap in the side of the bag so I can open it to check for potatoes without pulling the whole plant up. If you are growing potatoes and particularly if your space is limited, then grow bags are a brilliant solution.