Seed potatoes (traditionally purchased by gardeners in late Winter / early Spring) are placed somewhere cool but frost-free, in natural light, to allow them to produce chits or embryonic shoots, prior to planting a few weeks later. Opinions vary on whether this is necessary. You can just bung the seed potatoes straight in the ground (or pots) and they may do well, but chitting them seems to work better. My Dad always chitted his potatoes, and I intend to keep on chitting mine!
Many people chit their potatoes in used egg-boxes or something similar, because this enables the potatoes to be kept upright. Personally, I don't bother with this - I just prop them up against the side of some seed trays (though I made an exception for the sake of the camera, as you will see later!). Most of the chits will appear from one end of the seed potato (gardeners call it the "Rose" end), and when you plant the potato, the rose end should be uppermost to make it easy for the shoots to reach up to the surface of the soil. The chits should be compact and preferably dark-coloured, rather than spindly and anaemic. I reckon these ones look good:-
Here's a chit in close-up. [The photo is a bit fuzzy I'm afraid, because this is not a genuine Macro, but an "ordinary" photo that has been zoomed.]
And another one...
|Doesn't this look like some ghastly alien monster with two hairy ears???|
This year I am growing seven varieties of potato. They are all ones for harvesting as "Baby New Potatoes". First Earlies Casablanca, Lady Christl, Rocket, and Swift, Second Earlies Orla and Vivaldi, and Maincrop Pink Fir Apple. First Earlies mature approximately 10 weeks after planting, Second Earlies about 13 weeks, and Maincrops anything from 15 weeks upwards.
Since my plot is very small I don't feel it justifiable to grow potatoes in one of the raised beds, so I grow them in pots instead. This year I am being sensible and not trying to have too many. I will plant only 21 tubers, each of which will hopefully produce enough new potatoes for a 2-person helping. Mine came in 5-tuber nets from Thompson & Morgan (why don't more suppliers offer potatoes in small quantities, I ask?), but I am sharing them 60:40 with my daughter Emma. Here she is teaching her daughter Lara how to plant potatoes:
|Hope you remembered to drill some drainage holes in those buckets, Emma!|
|I think that maybe Lara has now added the word "chit" to her growing vocabulary...|
Pink Fir Apple (PFA) is a favourite of mine, on account of its marvellous flavour and texture, despite being a challenge in the kitchen due to its sometimes very irregular shape. The PFA seed potatoes are much slower to chit than the others. Only one of mine has produced any chits so far, and only tiny ones at that. I'm sure they will be OK in the end though, all in their own good time.
|You might just be able to see one tiny chit at the top of the PFA at right of picture|
Most of my seed potatoes could probably be planted any time now, but I'm going to delay a bit, to lessen the problems of protecting them from frost. Maybe towards the end of March??