How and why chitting or sprouting seed potatoes is essential before you plant them (hint: you’ll get a faster harvest and bigger yields, which sound like pretty good reasons to me!)
Update: The original version of this post was published in March 2018
Spring is almost here! There’s only one more month to go until it’s meteorological spring, and for many gardeners it will be game on! I, for one, have 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.
I know we’re not quite there yet, but soon it will be 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. And NOW is the time to start preparing for it!
What is Chitting or Sprouting?
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.
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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 few weeks you’ll have seed potatoes ready to plant and covered with strong, green, stocky sprouts.
Why Sprouting Seed Potatoes is Good
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 where I am early spring is often very, very wet. By getting those sprouts going before planting, you are giving them a head start and eliminating the need for them to break their dormancy while 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 to four weeks after you set them out to chit. You’ll know it’s time to plant when the sprouts are about ½” to 1” long, although you can plant sooner or later if you need to.
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Sow your chitted tubers like normal, in a deep trench of rich, sandy, well-draining soil, about 8 to 12 inches apart. If you want to, you can rub off all but three or four sprouts before planting. This will result in fewer, but larger, potatoes. Just make sure you plant your seed potatoes with the sprouts facing up.
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?
Farmers have been cutting their seed potatoes into smaller sections for hundreds of years. Cutting a potato into smaller pieces means more plants from fewer seeds.
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When cutting up your seed potatoes into sections, makes sure each contains at least two “eyes” or buds.
However, there is more of a risk of your potatoes rotting in the ground when they’ve been cut into pieces. Usually that’s because the pieces weren’t correctly cured before planting. If you decide to divide your potatoes, make sure to let them sit a few days longer so that their cut side can callus over.
To skip this step, just choose smaller seed potatoes for planting.
It’s so easy to start sprouting seed potatoes before planting them! If you live in an area with very wet springs, sprouting 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 believe in sprouting seed potatoes before planting them? What has been your experience?
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