Chitting potatoes

  • Grow at Home: Potatoes

    About the Potato

    Pink_potato_flower Potato flower

    Potatoes can be so cheap to buy, so why bother to grow your own?

    One reason is taste - the chance to get tasty tatties that are full of flavour is not to be missed. Another reason is to try a different variety.  The shops stock a limited range and often bag them without even telling you what variety you are buying.  As a result, even if you liked it, you couldn't guarantee to get it again.  Go to your Garden Centre and your eyes will be opened to all the varieties of seed potato available.

    The best reason for me though is the plant itself.  Far from being a dull and functional plant, it has lush green foliage and delicate white or pink flower.  One of the prettiest flowers in the garden and loved by pollinators so winning on all levels.

    Types of Seed Potato

    There are three sorts of potatoes based on when you plant and harvest them: First Earlies, Earlies and Maincrop.  The titles are fairly explanatory but basically the First Earlies are 'new' potatoes, small potatoes harvested as early as June followed by Earlies and Main Crop which produce larger potatoes later in the season.

    Plant in Garden Plant in Containers Harvest
    First Earlies Late March Late Feb / Early March June/ July
    Earlies Early/ Mid April Late March/ Early April July/ August
    Maincrop Mid/Late April Early/Mid April August/ October

     

    Chitting

    Chitted potato with face drawn on

    As soon as you buy your seed potatoes lay them out on a tray or in open egg boxes in a cool, dry, light position to allow them to sprout.  This is known as chitting.

    Believe it or not there is a 'right' way up for potatoes.  The 'rose' end or the end with the most eyes and dimples should be placed uppermost.  The debate is ongoing as to whether chiitting is needed at all though, so I doubt getting them the wrong way up at this stage will have a significant effect.  The chits take about 4 to 6 weeks to grow.  However you may find that your seed potatoes have started chitting before you buy them.  They are ready to plant when the chits are about 1" (3cm) long.  On early potatoes, rub off the weakest shoots, leaving three per tuber.

    To ensure that you don't get a glut of potatoes you may wish to chit enough for one planter (3 or 4) leave it 7 to 10 days and chit a second batch etc etc so that your potatoes are planted and harvested over a period rather than all being ready at the same time.  Our  Potato Planters come in a pack of 3 so you can do the bags one at a time to achieve this easily.

    Where to Plant

    The first choice to make is where you want to grow them - in the ground or in containers.  This depends on what space you have and how much digging you want to do.  Containers are by far the easiest way but if you have lots of space and fancy the exercise then growing directly in the ground is an option.

    Planting in containers

    Take a large 40L Potato Planter or if you want an even bigger crop a Vigoroot Potato Planter that will air-prune the roots.  

    Pour about 5cm of good multipurpose compost into the bottom.  Place your seed potatoes - 3 or 4 per planter- onto the soil making sure that your chits are facing upwards.  Cover with a further 5cm of compost.  Water and wait.  That's it.

    Earthing up: containers

    In Containers - earthing up couldn't be easier.  When the shoots have reached 10cm pour more soil into the planter until the tips of the plants are just covered.  Keep the soil moist and continue to cover as the shoots grow. Maincrop potatoes benefit from a nitrogenous fertiliser around the time of the second earthing up.  The bag will be full by the time you are finished.

    Harvesting

    Early potatoes take between 12-15 weeks to mature, main crop take about 20 weeks.

    Once they have finished flowering and the leaves start to die back your potatoes are probably ready to harvest.  To get the best results, and potatoes that will store really well, leave it 2 weeks after the foliage has died back to harvest. If frost is expected within two weeks while plants are still green and vigorous, you can defoliate the tops in order to kick start the skin setting process. The best way to do this is to shred the leaves and stems of the plants so that death is gradual rather than sudden. If the plants die suddenly (including death to hard frost), the tubers may be discoloured.

    The skin on mature potatoes is thicker and firmly attached to the potato.  To check if your potatoes are ready you can delve into the bag with your hand and find a potato.  Rub the skin with your finger and if it comes off really easily they are probably not ready yet and need a little longer.
    Once you are sure they are ready you can harvest.  Simply turn the bag upside down on a plastic sheet, into a wheelbarrow or a corner of the patio.  Shake the soil from the roots and you will see the potatoes which you can gently remove.

    Curing & Storing

    After harvesting, potatoes must be cured. Let them sit in temperatures of 7-16C  (45 to 60 F) for about two weeks. This will give the skins time to harden and minor injuries to seal. Store your cured potatoes at about 4 C (40 F) in a dark place.  A jute Veg Sack is ideal for this and will keep out the light that would turn them green and make them poisonous.

    Planting In the Garden

    If planting outside make sure that before you plant the potato bed has been turned over well then warm up the beds by placing mini poly tunnels over them a few days before planting.

    The traditional planting method is to dig a narrow trench and place the tubers with chits facing up between 4” (10cm) Earlies and 8” (20cm) Maincrop deep.

    Leave about 12" (30cm) Earlies and 15" (37cm) Maincrop between plants and 24" (60cm) Earlies and 30" (75cm) Maincrop between rows.

    Finally, replace the poly tunnel to keep the soil warm, give them a good start and protect from late frosts once the shoots break through.

    Earthing Up: outside

    When shoots get to around 9" (23cm) start 'earthing up'.  Basically, make small mounds of soil around them, covering the leaves creating a ridge about 6" (15cm) high.  As the stems grow, repeat the process. The final height of the ridges will be about 12" (30cm). This will protect the plants from frost and keep the light from the developing potatoes which makes them go green and poisonous.

    Harvesting

    To harvest potatoes, you’ll need a spade or a fork. You can harvest just for supper i.e just what you need right now.  However, it is quite stressful for the plant so be as gentle as you can.  To do this drive your fork into the soil at the outside edges of the plant. Carefully lift the plant and remove the potatoes you need. Set the plant back in place and water thoroughly.

    To harvest the whole crop, first test them for maturity by digging up one potato and testing its skin as outlined above.  Especially important when digging up potatoes is making sure that you don't scratch, bruise or cut them. Damaged tubers will rot during storage so these should be first in the pot.  Work through the bed as methodically as you can, feeling round the roots so that you don't miss any potatoes.  Potatoes should then be cured and stored as detailed above.

    Growing potatoes is very rewarding and you may find yourself bitten by the bug and refilling your potato planters immediately after harvest to grow your own potatoes for Christmas!  In the meantime why not try this delicious Potato Scones recipe?

  • Potatoes in Planters

    Haxnicks Garden Products can be brought online

    The time has come, I can no longer tolerate their mischievous presence on my kitchen window sill. If they have eyes on stalks that grow by the day who knows what else they might develop? I certainly cannot risk the possibility that they may someday be able to talk and expose my fifty shades of green lifestyle! So the potatoes are going under….well some of them anyway, the rest have been relegated to the windowsill at the back of the larder to chit behind a closed door.

    Grandpa Haxnicks advised that I shouldn’t sow them all at once unless I want to harvest them all at once and have a glut of potatoes, and then I would have to eat them all at once and have a gut full of potatoes and end up looking like a potato, not one of my ambitions, so I will sow one planter at a time.

    Planting Potato Seeds in Haxnicks Potato Patio Planters

    Job done. I chose the 4 seed potatoes with the most prying eyes, about 2.5cm long and buried (I think the kinder word is planted) them in a potato planter on top of 10cm and under 5cm of multi- purpose compost. When their prying shoots appear through the soil I will bury them further!

    Haxnicks Giant Standard Easy Fleece Tunnels

    EasyFleece Tunnels warming the soil

    I went to visit Grandpa Haxnicks this week hoping for a cup of tea and some gardening gossip (mostly vegetable based rivalry with his neighbour), only to be put to work preparing some of his raised vegetable beds for the growing season ahead. We removed all the weeds, dug it over and then put out some Easy Fleece tunnels to help warm the soil presumably so that he can get his growing season well under way before Mr Perfect Parsnips next door.

  • Seed potatoes and Spring cleaning

    Haxnicks Potty Gardener

    The Potty Gardener

    There are some peculiar brown, wrinkly things lurking on my kitchen windowsill. They may be small and silent but rather alarmingly they seem to be growing poisonous eyes on stalks! Grandpa Haxnicks assures me that they can’t see me (I have my doubts), but I am relieved to know that in a few weeks I can safely bury them out of sight. If they continue to grow and possibly reproduce I am told that it is quite reasonable at some stage to dig them up, boil them alive and eat them (shhh maybe they have ears too).

    Haxnicks Tips on Seed Pots

    These chitting seed potatoes, sporting the racy names of ‘Swift’, ‘Rocket’, and ‘Red duke of York’ promise to give a good summer crop and I’m told are ideal for growing in planters. Who gets to choose potato names I wonder, because if these little chitters don’t live up to their names I shall be offering to rename them (shhh maybe they have ears too)? If my potty ramblings haven’t satisfied your curiosity about growing potatoes in planters then have a look at Haxnicks Potato Planters

    Haxnicks Patio Planters

    Anyway, as well as keeping a careful eye on those potato eyes I have gathered some pots, planters and grow bags ready to create my self-contained garden. Grandpa Haxnicks has kindly delivered some goodies and I have scrubbed up some old pots. I have also cleaned up and cleaned out the greenhouse and green it was, every pane coated in verdant mould, so I scrubbed the glass with a vinegar solution which apparently made me smell like an old gherkin. Lovely!

    The next stage in my plan is carrots, Amsterdam Forcing Carrots to be precise. I also wonder who names the carrots? They sound even more imposing than the potatoes, why not something gentler like Nether Wallop Nudging or Trumpton Tender? Any more suggestions…..?

  • Spring is in the air

    Spring is in the air, throw open the windows! We should be out in the garden getting some fresh air and exercise. There is plenty to do from clearing winter debris - twigs on the ground and hedge cutting - as it is time to smarten up your gardens and get ready for planting very soon.
    Jobs to do:
    Sow seeds inside: such as aubergines, brussels sprouts, celery, cucumber, fennel, kale, lettuces, melons, nasturtiums, marigolds, peas, rocket and tomatoes – if you haven’t already.
    You can begin to sow seeds outside too but to be on the safe side I would cover them with cloches to give them a better chance. You can sow, onion sets, parsnips, potatoes (if they are chitted), spinach, rhubarb(crowns) and strawberry plants.
    Chit your seed potatoes: this means place each seed potato separately onto a tray or in egg boxes and leave them somewhere cool and light. They must be kept away from any chance of a frost. You will notice that in a couple of weeks they will start to sprout shoots, when this happens you can plant them out into the ground.
    Haxnicks Garden Products can be brought online
    Get your beds ready: Remember in order not to ‘do your back in’ only do the tiring jobs for twenty minutes at a time, such as digging. I have dug mine and added loads of manure and compost to raise the height of the bed, as last year it was so water logged and everything drowned. I am determined to give everything a better chance this year. Positive thinking. So digging an adding compost/manure are things that need to be done over the next couple of weeks.

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