How and why to sprout or chit your potatoes
(hint: you’ll get a faster harvest and bigger yields!)
Spring is here! We’ve been waiting for what feels like eons for the soil to warm up and dry out enough to start planting things straight into the ground.
Now is the time to plant one of the most versatile (and one of my favorite) vegetables: the potato. Potatoes are a food staple in almost every part of the world, and is also one of the very easiest crops to grow.
Potatoes are usually ready to harvest about 110-145 days after planting, but you can get a head start on your future harvest by chitting, greening or sprouting your tubers.
What is Chitting?
The terms “chitting,” “greening,” and “sprouting” all mean the same thing, and can be used interchangeably. It simply means letting your seed potatoes sprout before you plant them.
Remember that bag of baking potatoes you forgot about in the pantry, and which grew long, white feeble-looking sprouts before you found them and tossed them in the compost? Well, chitting is the same sort of concept, only you mean to do it.
To encourage the potatoes to start growing, place them in open egg cartons or spread out on your counter or windowsill in a warm, light place – preferably your kitchen or greenhouse – and in just a couple of weeks you’ll have seed potatoes ready to plant and covered with strong, green, stocky sprouts.
Why Chit (or pre-sprout) Potatoes?
It’s absolutely not necessary to chit your potatoes before you plant them, but it is so easy to do and there are so many benefits to it!
First of all, and maybe most importantly, is that there is less of a chance of your seed potatoes rotting in the ground before they can start growing. The best time to plant potatoes is in early spring, and in my maritime gardening zone early spring is often very, very wet. By getting those sprouts going before planting, you are giving it a head start and eliminating the need for it to break its dormancy underground.
Chitting potatoes will also speed up their growth and typically reduces the amount of time between planting and harvesting by about 10 to 15 days!
Pre-sprouted potatoes are usually more productive, too, and we’ve had much bigger yields when we chit versus when we don’t. More potatoes are never a bad thing in my opinion!
Planting Your Chitted Potatoes
Usually your potatoes will be ready to plant two or three weeks after you set them out (although you can always plant them sooner if you need to). The sprouts will be about ½” to 1” long, and you’ll want to make sure you plant them with the sprouts facing up.
If you want to, you can rub off all but three or four sprouts before planting. This will result in fewer, but larger, potatoes.
Also, it’s OK if your potatoes turn green while you’re chitting them; seed potatoes aren’t for eating. The green coloration in potatoes is usually an indicator of an inedible and harmful nerve toxin, and is really only a concern if your potato is destined for your dinner plate.
Should you cut the potato up?
A lot of advice calls for cutting up your seed potatoes into sections, each containing at least two “eyes” or buds.
Farmers have been cutting their seed potatoes into smaller sections for hundreds of years, usually because they could only save a certain amount of seed potatoes from their harvest, needing to eat or sell the rest. Cutting a potato into smaller pieces obviously means more plants from fewer seeds, and for self-sufficient farmers that’s really the only way to go.
For most gardeners or hobby farmers who buy their seed potatoes every year, this step is completely unnecessary, although you can certainly do it to save money.
You definitely do run more of a risk of your potatoes rotting in the ground when they’ve been cut into pieces though. Usually that’s because the pieces weren’t correctly cured before planting. If you decide to cut your potatoes up after chitting, make sure to let them sit a few days longer so that their cut side can heal and callus over.
Chitting potatoes is so easy! If you’re not pressed for time or space, or if you live in an area with very wet springs, pre-sprouting your seed potatoes is absolutely the way to go. For almost no effort at all, you’ll get higher yields, faster harvests and less in-ground rotting.
Sounds good to me!
Do any of you pre-sprout your potatoes? What has been your experience?
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