Buying and Chitting Seed Potatoes

Gardening success, especially abundant growing, is built on a degree of preparation. You can still have a good crop or a beautiful garden without it, but it may cost more or not achieve its full potential. After several years of learning, I now try to make sure I plan out tasks and do my best to do them on time.

A task for February is preparing my seed potatoes for planting in March and April. I like to buy mine around now in February. A good selection is usually available, and they are in good condition around this time. If you leave buying them too late, their viability may have reduced due to how they have been displayed or stored.

Types of potato

Potatoes are usually grouped into three categories that describe when they should be sown and when to expect harvests.

First Earlies (also known as new potatoes) – as the name describes, these varieties are planted first, usually around late March here in the UK, with a harvest in June and July.

Second earlies – These varieties are planted mid-April for harvesting in July and August.

Main Crop – these are usually the last to be planted in late April and can be harvested between August and October.

A wide variety of potatoes make each suitable for different types of cooking.

First and Second earlies generally make for good salad and boiled potatoes, and they tend to remain firm when boiled, whereas maincrop varieties can make great roast potatoes. This isn’t always the case, so make sure you read up on the varieties on offer and select the type that meets your cooking requirements.

I’ve selected four varieties, one first early, one second early and two maincrop varieties.

My selection for first early (also known as new potatoes) is: Foremost

My chosen second early is: Maris Peer

My maincrop varieties are: King Edward & Maris Piper

Preparing seed potatoes

Once seed potatoes have been selected and purchased, the next step is to prepare them to be planted later in the year.

Chitting potatoes is a time-honoured gardening task. Chitting is the practice of allowing potatoes to sprout before being planted. They usually need around 4-6 weeks of chitting before planting them out, so it is good to buy your potatoes now.

The aim of chitting is to shorten the time between planting and harvesting and increase the yield from each plant. However, the research on the benefits of chitting has been variable, and while there is some evidence chitting increases yields, the variety of potatoes may have a more significant impact. While the benefits of chitting may still be a point to be proven, it costs nothing and is a task I can do in the colder months, and I find it helps me back into the growing season.

Chitting takes up room, so if you have limited space or time, you do not need to chit, and it should not put anyone off growing their own potatoes.

How to chit potatoes

To chit potatoes:

  • Identify the end with the most eye’s where the buds will grow from.
  • Place them in a container with their eye’s pointing up; an egg box is ideal for this.
  • Place in a cool room out of direct sunlight. If you use a shed, ensure the potatoes are covered with fleecing to protect them from frost.
  • Wait 4 to 6 weeks. Aim for 4-6 shoots. Extra shoots on earlies can be rubbed off, but there is no need to do this with maincrop potatoes.

Preparing the ground

While the seed potatoes are chitting, it is an excellent time to prepare the ground you will be planting in or ensure you have enough potato grow bags.

Selecting a growing location

Potatoes will enjoy a sunny location, so choose the part of your veg patch that will receive high levels of sunlight throughout the growing season. Potatoes can take up a lot of space, so make sure you have measured out the areas you plan to use to ensure they will accommodate your potato plants.

Potatoes are traditionally planted in rows between 60 cm, for earlies and 75cm, for maincrop apart, and each seed potato is usually 30cm apart for earlies and 27 for maincrop.

Unfortunately, potatoes can suffer from diseases transferred from previous crops via the soil and other plants. Avoid planting potatoes where eggplant, tomatoes and peppers have grown in the past 2 years. A crop rotation plan can help you grow in a suitable place each year.

Ideally, the area you plan to grow your potatoes will have had well-rotted manure and compost added in the previous autumn. Potatoes are hungry and benefit from nutrients being added. If you are like me, having just taken over an allotment, or this is your first year growing potatoes, don’t worry; you can still plant them, but it may be worth remembering to prepare the soil in autumn for a better crop next year.


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