I have been chitting potatoes tonight. Both early and main crop varieties benefit from this, but there is a slightly different way to treat each one.
If you haven’t grown early potatoes before then without a doubt, you are missing out and I would urge you to try growing a few this year! Freshly dug potatoes are wonderfully tasty and when you look at the price of baby new potatoes in the shops (or early potatoes as gardeners call them), you can appreciate why it’s worthwhile for your wallet to grow them if you can. January / February is the time to buy and chit your potatoes. Chitting potatoes is beneficial to all varieties since it increases the size of your crop.
Main crop potatoes can handle all of the shoots that develop but early varieties that have been chitted should have all but the strongest two shoots rubbed off before they go in the ground in March. Too many shoots on an early potato causes too much growth which leads to too much competition and smaller tubers growing beneath the soil. In some cases, this competition can lead to the tubers being pushed to the surface of the soil where the sunlight will cause them to turn green. Green potatoes should never be eaten since they contain poisonous alkaloids.
How to Chit Potatoes
- Choose an early variety if you want to benefit from the earliest crops of potatoes. Old varieties such as Home Guard or Arran Pilot are worthwhile but the earliest I have come across are Rocket and Swift and can be ready in 60 days after planting.
- Early Varieties Only: Choose smaller tubers if possible (these should only produce a couple of shoots). As the eyes start to shoot, rub off all but two sprouts as early as possible. This stops the tuber from putting wasted energy from reserves into unwanted growth.
- Maincrop varieties can cope with more shoots and the extra growth and have a longer growing season to develop.
- Place the tubers in trays with the ends that have the most ‘eyes’ facing upwards. An egg box or egg tray is ideal for this.
- Stand the trays in a bright position that is frost free. A window sill is ideal.
That is all there is to it. When you plant your chitted potatoes, just remember to be careful with them. long shoots snap off easily.
Finally, a little tip, I like to save a few tubers of my early variety for chitting in the summer and planting in an old bucket or large pot in August. If brought inside the greenhouse when the frosts come, you can have new potatoes in time for Christmas.