One of the first jobs in the Snapshot and Snippets Organic gardening year is to start to force and chit some potatoes. Chitting Potatoes in January means sprouting the tuber. You do this by putting it, most eyes upright, in a light, cool but frost-free place at about 50F (10C). I am popping mine in the greenhouse but a garage or porch, slightly warmed by the house, is ideal. The Potatoes we are Chitting in January are First Early Varieties.
How to start Chitting Potatoes in January
Chitting is basically another word for sprouting. What you do when you chit your seed potatoes is basically to speed up the ageing process of the potato, by exposing it to light and, more importantly, a bit of warmth. This will cause the eyes of the seed potato to start sprouting. The sprouts should be small, knobbly, and green/purple in colour. If you end up with long, white coloured sprouts, it means there’s not enough light – you may have got this with potatoes you left in the cupboard too long- I know I have!
Light is important so don’t shove them off to the back of a shed. If you have only a few tubers, line them up in egg cartons which is what I am doing. If you’re doing lots, put the tubers in shallow, open boxes, like the slatted-bottomed ones you get at the greengrocers. Divide this up into sections of the folded newspaper to keep the tubers upright and slot them into that.
Once each of your seed potatoes has got 2-3 good sized ‘chits’ or sprouts on them, it’s time to plant them out in the soil. Whether you grow them in the ground or in containers. If any tubers have more than 3 chits/sprouts on them, rub the excess off. This is to ensure a better harvest, as there will be less underground shoots to share the goodness sent underground by the plant, so you might get fewer tubers, but the ones you get will be bigger.
What First Early Varieties are best for chitting in January?
Red Duke of York – This heritage variety is one of the few red-skinned, cream-fleshed earlies, high dry-matter (floury). It has a fine flavour and gets quite big. New, boil, steam, mash, chip, bake or roast.
Aaran Pilot – Very early traditional long-standing favourite; great flavour. Colour – white. Shape – oval
Swift – The earliest early, they are ready from 60 days when grown under polythene. Colour – cream. Shape – oval.
Ballydoon – A first early variety bred in Ayrshire by Mr John Watson and first introduced around 1931.Tubers are oval shaped with white skin and white flesh. Much prized for its cooking qualities Ballydoon has a floury texture and a superb new potato flavour.
Rocket – A very early, heavy-cropping variety. The pure white flesh is quite soft and waxy and delicious with mint and a knob of butter! New, boil, steam or saute.
We have Duke of York and Ballydoon in the Snapshot and Snippets Garden this year – we ordered them through Irish Seed Savers, They are based in Scarriff in County Clare. They are all about protecting the heritage of Irish crops their main objective is to conserve Ireland’s very special and threatened plant genetic resources. Their work focuses on the preservation of heirloom and heritage food crop varieties that are suitable for Ireland’s unique growing conditions.
When to plant out your Potatoes
Once you have bought your seed potatoes and finished chitting/sprouting them, the time has come to plant them out. Generally, with First Earlies, this is done in Late February /Early March.
So, how do you plant potatoes? Well – the answer to that question is not as straightforward as it might seem, simply because there are a number of variables to take into account, such as where do you plant them (vegetable plot, raised beds and containers), what kind of potatoes are they (earlies/maincrop) – and so on. Hopefully, you will find an answer to suit your needs below.
Planting Potatoes In A Garden/Allotment/Vegetable Plot
When planting potatoes in a vegetable plot in your garden or allotment, you will usually be planting straight into the soil. While potatoes will grow in practically any kind of soil, you get by far the best result in a fine/loose garden soil with plenty of organic matter, such as well-rotted chicken manure in it.
Also, to avoid potato diseases, you should never grow potatoes in the same spot within 2-3 years. Instead, grow plants from a different plant family, such as cabbages or peas/beans.
How To Plant Potatoes In Containers
If growing space is an issue, and you chose to grow your seed potatoes in containers in your yard, start by putting compost mixed with well-rotted manure in the container, until 1/3 full. Put 4-6 inches of soil on top. Once shoots start to appear, keep covering with compost until the container is full. You can buy special kits for doing this. We do this in our garden as blight is common and like to keep potatoes out of the main beds.
When will you harvest these potatoes
Earlies can be used as soon as they are large enough, although they can be very ‘soapy’ at this stage. Some earlier like Swift can be ready in late May if they are forced in the greenhouse. Usually, when the plants have flowered or soon after, the early potatoes are ready and this can be as little as 100 days after planting in good weather or 120 days in a miserable Irish spring.
Most Earlies are ready in late June.
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