The following is a description of the practice of chitting. This can give you a leg up in our Potato Growers competition. This and other articles were originally written for the Nipigon Gazette Newspaper and myBackyard.ca website.
Seed potatoes, or just old potatoes that have sat for too long will grow new plants eventually. Each potato eye has the potential to form an entirely new plant. Most people will plant an entire seed potato which will, in turn, create one potato plant and produce 10-20 potatoes; that’s a pretty nice return on investment.
Since each potato eye can form a new plant, and most potatoes form a few or more eyes, each eye could produce 10-20 potatoes.
Chitting, aka green sprouting or pre-sprouting, is a method of preparing your seed potatoes to maximize yields and speed up growth.
The first thing to do is to determine when to plant your potatoes.
You can plant potatoes 2 to 4 weeks before your last frost date directly into the soil. A frost will kill any potato sprout above ground. The local last frost date for me is June 1st.
Around these parts, mid to the end of May or when the dandelions come out is an excellent time to start—for me, using the last frost date of June 1st as my planting date. I do plant containers much earlier than this, but that’s a different story. From June 1st, I start the chitting process four weeks prior, on May 1st.
On May 1st, examine the potato and determine the end with the most eyes; this is the rose end. Place the potato in an egg carton with the rose end up and place in a dark warm space to trigger growth.
After two weeks or so, move them to a cooler location and add a little bit of light. The light will turn the sprouts green and healthy.
After the third week, pick out the larger seed potatoes and divide them into pieces with one or two eyes per piece. Place the pieces into the egg cartons for the cut edges to “heal”. If the edges aren’t given a few days to heal, they may rot in the ground. The cut edges should get leathery and dry.
By the fourth week, your newly chitted and divided potatoes will need to go into the ground. Plant them twice as deep as they are tall with the eye up.
As the potato plant breaks the surface, you can start mounding the plant’s dirt around the plants so that only a few inches of the plant is still above ground. This will promote more potatoes to grow. After you have a one or two-foot mound, let the potatoes grow to maturity. Clip off flowers as they appear to promote potato growth and not use energy to produce potato seeds (yes, they produce actual seeds).