Monday 7 March 2011

Chits with everything

At this time of year gardeners all over the UK will be chitting their seed potatoes. Experienced gardeners won't need any explanation of this, but for the benefit of less-experienced folk, this is what chitting is about...

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??


  1. Ours too are chitting away - do you rub off any of the shoots?

  2. No, I don't usually bother with rubbing off any of the shoots. This sounds unnecessary to me. Does it help, do you think?

  3. I don't really know whether it makes any difference - we did it for a while but haven't for ages and seem to do OK.

  4. I suppose the logic of it is that it is supposedly better to have one or two strong shoots rather than lots of weaker ones. I think I would only worry about that sort of thing if I was growing for showing.

  5. Sometimes I chit and sometimes I don't chit. I imagine that I will be chitting this year since the potatoes will probably arrive a little earlier then I need them to.

    I love those close-up!

  6. I don't think we call sprouts "chits" in the U.S. because my parents were savvy gardeners and I never heard them say that word! I think we just say sprouts. Anyway, I don't think they sprouted the potatoes before planting.Must be optional. I love the way Emma is enjoying helping her mother plant!

  7. Ah, you can never start teaching little ones too early. Get them interested in where their food comes from and they'll eat it much better. Even though I've got an allotment it's only a half plot so I've allocated some space for some maincrop potatoes but all my earlies are going in containers. I'm also holding off planting them yet, too much trouble protecting them from frost.

  8. Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my broccoli post. One good turn deserves another, right?

    Egretta Wells is Americana correct. We've been farming red and white potatoes in the United States for several years, and we've never purposely waited for the eyes to grow sprouts (chits?) We cut around each of the eyes and plant them directly into the ground (sprout side up). We've never had trouble doing it this way, but your way will work just as well. The only difference is while we are waiting for the shoots to push through the earth, you're waiting for them to grow onto the potato before planting them. Either way works fine.

    For sweet potatoes, we wait for the shoots to appear, cut around them and plant into the ground.

    Good luck!

  9. I had no idea that's what chitting potatoes meant, thanks Mark! I am lazy and just plant plain old potatoes into a garden bed, I would like to have some fancy types this year though. I love the PFAs, I'll have to take a look to see what we can get here.

    And I will enjoy chitting them!

  10. I agree that the Emma and Lara photos are gorgeous! But I must tell you I misread the title and thought you were upset with your know that you had the ...well it rhymes with chits.

  11. Hazel - it's not potatoes that do that to you, it's the rhubarb!


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