I want growing your own vegetable or flower garden to be for accessible to everyone! But the sad fact is that gardening can be a minefield of new techniques, fancy latin words and old wives tales. So today I’m looking at a technique you may have heard of but have almost certainly seen in the back of a cupboard! I’m breaking down.. chitting potatoes. What is it? Does it work? Is it necessary? Let’s go!
It’s that time of year when we are thinking about what to plant for the growing season ahead. One UK (and worldwide) staple is the humble potato! It is best to grow potatoes from special seed starter potatoes that have been checked for disease. Of course it is possible to just use those you get from the supermarket but you never know what exactly they have been coated in to actually prevent them from growing. Potatoes are extremely easy to grow in general but there is one technique which is claimed will aid that process. Chitting.
“Chit (verb) /tʃɪt/ – to sprout or shoot as a seed or plant”
Chitting of potatoes is simply the process of letting them send out shoots BEFORE planting in their growing space. Also termed green-sprouting or pre-sprouting; The general theory being that this will give them a head start when they get in the ground.One of the problems with potatoes is that the tubers can often be planted out into wet, cold ground in Spring and, instead of sprouting, can potentially rot away in poor conditions. But does chitting negate this process?
Scanning through a few peer-reviewed scientific studies there is a general consensus that an increase in yield is not always a significant factor in whether a potato has been chitted or not but emergence from the soil does seem to be significant in a number of studies (Johanson and Mølmann, 2017)(Chang et. Al., 2020)(McKeown, 1993). It has also been reported that chitting has no predictable effect on whether plants will become more or less susceptible to disease like late blight (Hospers-Brands et. al., 2008). It was also noted in several studies that the process of chitting would be more beneficial more earlier potato cultivars, as the degree-days, that is the difference between soil temperature and indoor chitting temperature experienced would be higher for those early potatoes.
So benefits of chitting can largely be summed up as a likely improvement in emergence and possible increase in yield and possible resistance to blight.
- Place your seed potatoes in a container like an egg carton with eyes facing up from late January.
- Make sure you remove your potatoes from their netting as soon as you get them to avoid them being caught up and bits breaking off.
- Maintain a temperature of 10C+ with plenty of light. Dark will encourage long, spindly and more fragile shoots to form. I like to keep mine in my bright kitchen, on top of the cupboards
- Plant out potatoes between March and May depending on whether they are first earlies, second earlies or maincrop. I will go into more detail on these in another post!