It’s time to start chitting! And I mean that in the best possible way. If you have been growing your own potatoes you know what I am talking about. Take the potatoes out of storage and let them sprout in daylight.
These potatoes arrived in a bag already sprouting. If kept in the dark they would grow long sprouts and be a disaster come spring so I immediately started chitting them on my windowsill
Potatoes kept in the dark form long unwieldy sprouts. If yours are sprouting then the only thing you can do is pull them out of the cupboard or storage area right now and break off all those long sprouts. Then get to work chitting them. This means putting them somewhere where they can get light (a windowsill?) so they will resist getting long white sprouts too soon. I got a whole bag of sprouting potatoes from a friend leaving on an extended winter vacation. Instead of fussing about these sprouting spuds, I simply started chitting the unlabelled potatoes right away.
Last year I was told and then discovered for myself that potatoes can be left in this “chitting” state for up to 16 weeks. In other words, regardless of where you live and when the best time to plant potatoes is in your area, you can “hold” them in this semi-ready-to-grow state for months and months. I planted my last batch of potatoes in early August and they went on to grow super fast in the warm soil and produced a crop before they died back in fall.
Remember most potatoes grown commercially are sprayed so they will not sprout. If you are waiting a month or more and there are no signs of chitting or small stems emerging then you probably have potatoes that have been sprayed. These potatoes sat on my windowsill for almost a year and they never did sprout. The Dirty Dozen list includes potatoes simply because they are often sprayed so much on commercial farms and the sprays are still in the potatoes when we eat them. Avoid eating sprayed potatoes by buying organically grown ones or growing your own.
I grow indeterminate potatoes in wire fencing.
I also grow indeterminate potatoes in root pouches (fabric bags), adding more soil or compost as they grow.
Potatoes can be started in your greenhouse if you have one but otherwise put them outdoors when the danger of frost is past. There are so many types of potatoes and so many ways to grow them. From wire fences, to root pouches, potatoes want to grow. If you expect them to grow up and into the new soil you are adding to your root pouch or fence, make sure to buy medium or late season potatoes because these varieties are indeterminate and will keep sending out new potatoes as they grow taller. Early potatoes, like Warba, will not grow up because they are determinate (bush) types. This also means they are ready first thing in early summer.
Potatoes harvested in old straw are clean and pest free. This year I will experiment further to see if there is a best way to grow potatoes at home in root pouches.
When grown in compost or old straw, potatoes are clean when harvested. This year I am doing an experiment to see what mulch works best to get the biggest yield of potatoes. I will use my freebie potatoes that are sprouting already so they are all the same and I will try planting them in compost, wood mulch and straw.
Potatoes are universally loved. When my grandson Kale was still in diapers he was excited about pulling potatoes even before he could clearly enunciate it. Once I realized what he wanted I gave him full access. Yes it was still early but why discourage a young gardener?
Kale harvests his first potatoes at my house. A big day in the garden for sure!
There are so many kinds of potatoes but one I love and discovered a few years ago is the French Fingerling – a red potato with white interior. This year I am also growing German Butterball, Sieglinde, Red Chieftan and Warba as well as French Fingerling. Yummy!
Red Fingerling are delicious and buttery but they don’t last as long in storage as some of the other fingerlings because the skin is thin and they start to get rubbery. We just make a point of eating them first.
All types of potatoes are heavy feeders and prefer really rich soil. This is why I have started growing them in straight compost. Luckily I produce a lot of compost in my garden! When the leaves start to yellow, the plant dies and it is the end of the potato-making season for that plant. Most commercial growers fertilize heavily to keep plants growing vigorously and making new potatoes for as long as possible.
If you have potatoes in storage you have save start checking them on a regular basis this month. Chances are they will start initiating buds on spuds and when this happens it is really better to pull them out of storage and set them up where they can get air and light. This process is called chitting and it lets you delay or stage planting until you are ready.
These potatoes have been waiting to be planted for several weeks but at least they are not sending up the long weak shoots yet. Instead, they are chitted on a windowsill. I can plant them when I am ready.
My dog is a truffle dog. She loves to eat anything that smells of soil. The only thing she likes better than soil is her rubber pig. So when I saw this root pouch missing potatoes after I got called away to do a different job I knew exactly what happened! Corle had traded in her pig for one or more of my potatoes.
Rubber pig traded in for potatoes. Corle in action.
It is going to be spring eventually so why not get your potatoes on your windowsill and start prepping them for planting by chitting them now? On the other hand if you haven’t tried growing potatoes so have none in storage, get on with ordering them as soon as possible. There are so many kinds and many farmers like John at Eagle Creek sell them in 4-packs so you can try many kinds. But from what I see online they are already running out of many desirable kinds, so get your order in soon.
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Donna Balzer is the Brand Ambassador for BCGreenhouse Builders and she has two greenhouses in her big backyard.