Real Men Sow

To Chit or Not to Chit

I bought my seed potatoes from the allotment shop yesterday. After much deliberation, I went for Pink Fir Apple and Estima, both varieties I’ve never grown.

I chose the Estima on the advice of the allotment head honcho and sort-of shop manager Ron, after telling him I wanted to grow a few potatoes fit for baking this year. Ron grows half his batch of Estima as earlies, and then leaves the rest in the ground to grow into bigguns.

Don’t Chit?
Interestingly, Ron’s other advice was not to chit the potatoes. His reasoning was that chitting ‘takes the energy out of them’, and that I should stick the potatoes straight in to the ground as soon as I can.

Now, I’m not going to question the wisdom of someone who’s been growing veg longer than I’ve even been on the planet, and has forgotten more about allotments than I know.

(Well, okay, maybe I am).

Chitting potatoes is such a time honoured tradition, I’d always presumed it was something you just did, without question, like loving our trains even though they’re invariably late, or pressing ahead with a barbeque even despite the torrential rain outside.

Reasons for Chitting
My understanding is that a potato will not do much whilst the soil temperature is below 10 degrees or so, and if left to their own devices the soil won’t warm up enough for a potato to sprout early enough, meaning that a crop won’t be ready until Autumn.

This means we’re forced to introduce artificial growth using light, warm parts of our houses to bring on the new shoots and give the potato the kick up the backside it needs to start growing, thus reducing the cropping time.

I suppose, when you think about it logically, it is only earlies that need chitting. Maincrop, which I normally store and use over winter, have plenty of time to grow.

A 2012 Target: To Grow a Big Potato
One of my favourite things about GYO is the constantly changing and evolving goals. I’ve added Grow a Proper Baking Potato to my initial thoughts and goals for 2012. I normally get a fair crop of potatoes, but often this is made up of mostly small ones.

I want some corkers this year, so am going to feed them. I don’t normally even water them, which is daft, and may go a long way to explaining why I only tend to get small potatoes.

Anyone else feed their potatoes? Any success? I’d be interested to know what you use.

To Chit or Not to Chit?
And so, back to my original question: to chit, or not to chit?

Results aside, there is a big part of me that feels like I’m missing out if I don’t. Chitting is one of the first real growing jobs of the new season, and already there is lots of chit chat on Twitter and allotment blogs. I’d feel a little left out if I didn’t have anything to share.

And I’ve got to say, I’m not really a rock the boat kinda guy. I reckon there are some things out there that just should be questioned.

My wife is always right, the only certainties in life are death and taxes, and potatoes should always be chitted.

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8 Comments

  1. MarkJanuary 24, 2012 at 7:46 amReply

    I never water my spuds, but get some big’uns. Perhaps it depends on the soil and variety. We’re on heavy clay (retains lots of nutrients) and have grown Cara for the last 3 years. Some of them would feed two or three people, they’re so big! I do put some potato fertiliser down when planting, then just leave them to it.

    • Jono

      JonoJanuary 24, 2012 at 8:17 amReplyAuthor

      I think my potatoes are just one of those veg I tend to overlook when there is lots to water.

      Thanks for the potato nutrient tip Mark, I’ll try that. Anything in particular you recommend?

      And its good to know that clay is decent for something!

  2. Claire BensonJanuary 24, 2012 at 8:38 amReply

    Hi Jono

    Not sure about chitting or not chitting. I chit under the advice of Garden Organic who I volunteer for and I was growing salad potatoes, however, last year was my first year growing potatoes so I am still very much a student on this subject!

    I have a container garden so grew my potatoes in a potato sack with good compost mixed with compost from my wormery and earthed up with spent compost. I made sure I gave them plenty of water as they share the same family as tomatoes so treated them in much the same way. I also fed them diluted worm tea about once a fortnight. I did get a good crop in my potato sack – about 1kg.

    But that is my only experience of growing potatoes! This is a very interesting debate. Thank you for raising it.

  3. MarkJanuary 24, 2012 at 9:10 amReply

    Jonjo, I’m guilty of using chemical fertiliser – like you I wanted to grow some big spuds for baking and didn’t want to risk a load of small ones. I purchase it mail-order at the same time I order my seed pots. An old boy up our way swears by grass clippings though – chuck a load in the trench when planting. I’ve never tried it mind, but might do this year with one row and see how it compares.

    As for the chitting debate, I remember Gardeners World doing a comparison one year. One bed of chitted and one bed of not. Sadly I missed the later episode at harvest time, so don’t know the results. Perhaps someone else saw it and can enlighten us…

  4. Dee SewellJanuary 24, 2012 at 2:14 pmReply

    Hi Jono,

    I chit my earlies and plant the maincrops unchitted – for the reasons you mention. If you chit them they’re raring to go as soon as the ground temperatures have warmed up, rather than leaving them in chilly, damp ground waiting around. The main crops generally don’t need chitting as they have a much longer growing season anyway. I’ve never used fertiliser, just added heaps of well rotted manure in the autumn or spring. Also very, very rarely watered my spuds, unless we’ve had exceptionally dry weather. Only problem we’ve ever suffered with them are slugs!

  5. Jono

    JonoJanuary 24, 2012 at 6:38 pmReplyAuthor

    Thanks everyone, furrowed brows and food for thought this end.

    I like the bag idea Claire, thanks. I’ve got lots of compost left from the year before last, so might give this a go as a little side project. Have grown sweet potatoes in this way, and had reasonable results.

    Perhaps I’ll go nuts and use a mixture of manure and grass clippings. To hell with it, might even chuck in some seaweed!

  6. Julieanne Porter (@GwenfarsLottie)January 24, 2012 at 7:32 pmReply

    I chit because it lifts my spirits to see my little taties getting ready for the growing season. Also, you cannot plant them too early as frost will destroy them (at least that is the case in Oxon).

    If you want decent sized baking potatoes, I recommend Stemster and Sante. I always get a good mix of quite large, large and medium from these varieties and they can store for months. I grew Rycroft Purple last year too, and the large ones were massive!

    I haven’t used much in the way of fertilizer, but that’s mainly because they were in allotment soil that had just been cleared and had plenty of nutrients. I do water a lot in dry weather too, which I think really helps ensure getting larger potatoes.

  7. KevinJanuary 24, 2012 at 7:42 pmReply

    To chit or not to chit almost seems like a matter of personal preference. I do believe though that you shouldn’t add organic compost as it harbours slugs. I watered mine regularly last year and fed them a couple of times with chicken pellets and we got some absolute whoppers. I’d guess that variety has more to do with it than anything though.

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About Real Men Sow

meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope.

However, three years on, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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