Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
Potato harvesting is an exhilarating and fun time for the family. Digging your fingers into the soil or compost to find a clutch of perfect spuds is a great feeling. When it seems you have seen them all, there is a whole cluster of little nuggets waiting that little deeper than you ever expected. In a short amount of time, a large bucket is full. Potatoes are a delightfully easy crop; every garden should have a patch.
Sprouting seed potatoes will cause them to be ready earlier in the season. It can also increase the size and weight of the harvest. But not all potatoes require to be sprouted. Early varieties with a short growing season are planted early and benefit from sprouting before putting in the soil. Later types don’t gain much growth due to the warm temperatures already present.
When you begin sprouting seed potatoes in the spring, you start a process that will bring you much fun and enjoyment. This article will explain the pros and cons of sprouting (chitting) seed potatoes. Discover the most exciting and successful varieties. Learn to sprout your potatoes like an expert.
What Are Seed Potatoes?
Seed potatoes are not just any potatoes. Great care is taken to start them in lab conditions and grow them in areas free from common pests and diseases. Potatoes from the supermarket can harbor disease. This can result in weak plants, small tubers, and a decreased harvest.
In a bad case, it could destroy the entire crop. Potatoes in the supermarket are often treated with anti-sprouting chemicals. Although this doesn’t always stop potatoes from sprouting, it can hinder their yields and flavor. The seed potatoes you will buy at a garden center have no chemicals and are certified to be disease-free.
Is it worth sprouting potatoes from the store?
When I started growing potatoes in my garden, I wanted to save money, so I sprouted potatoes from the kitchen cabinet. I harvested a small basket of delicious, starchy potatoes at the end of each summer. Then one year, my potato vines all turned yellow in early summer, and the crop failed. That was when I decided to buy some seed potatoes.
I sprouted some seed potatoes and planted them into a raised bed. I also planted some sprouted supermarket potatoes in a different bed. The difference was incredible. The seed potatoes from the garden center grew huge vines, large tubers, and so many potatoes I couldn’t give them away. I was convinced. I will never bother planting potatoes from the market again.
How To Choose Potato Varieties to Sprout?
Most garden centers will have three basic types of seed potatoes for sale; red-skinned, golden, and brown-skinned ‘baker.’ A garden store with much imagination will offer some interesting exotic varieties. Blue potatoes, pink-fleshed potatoes, and fingerling potatoes have become very popular.
These potatoes are known as determinate and indeterminate potatoes. What does each of these mean?
These are varieties of potatoes that grow in just one layer; they do not require mounding and are an ideal potato variety to use if soil levels are shallow or to plant multiple layers in a deep box. These resemble first earlies or salad potatoes in the UK and Europe.
These are varieties of potatoes that have a much longer growing season. They produce tubers on multiple levels where a stem swells and a new tuber is formed. These are late-crop or main-crop potatoes in the UK or Europe.
Try a mix of varieties in your potato patch this year—Discover your favorite. If your potatoes are disease-free, they can be grown together and mixed up. It adds to the surprise of harvesting them. There is another advantage of having a variety.
Thin-skinned white and golden potatoes are deliciously sweet but don’t store either. For this reason, I always eat these first and will surely grow some brown and red-skinned varieties that will stay fresh throughout the winter. My all-time favorite potatoes are
- Sarpo Mira
- Yukon Gold
For a more in-depth explanation of what varieties are and their growing conditions, check out a video I made below on the subject.
Finally, I may, from time to time, look in seed catalogs for the more interesting heirloom varieties. Consider growing the Ozette potato. A long, white fingerling potato, this variety was developed by the Makah Native American tribe in the Pacific Northwest for centuries. It was only rediscovered a few decades ago. It has been proven to be a good performer with a delicious flavor.
More than anything, you can connect with this history and tell a good story when you share this unique bounty with friends and family. Heirloom varieties allow you to test out flavors of times gone by that may have been forgotten in previous years.
Pro-Tip– Choosing the smallest you can find is best when buying seeds. The best-sized seed potatoes are small enough to plant without cutting them into pieces. Ideally, around the size of a large egg is perfect. These are called single drops. They will be more resistant to rot and may grow more vigorous vines.
It is common practice to cut potatoes to save money. If you do this after making the cuts allow the potatoes to form a skin and dry out for a few days over the cut areas. Skipping this step will cause the rotting process to start once it’s in the soil.
How To Sprout Seed Potatoes?
The process of sprouting seed potatoes is called “chitting.” This process will ensure that potatoes get off to a great start once in the soil. Commercial farmers don’t have the luxury of chitting their seeds because they use machines to plant them. The fragile shoots that come out of the eyes break very easily.
Once broken, that shoot will not grow into a vine or create any tubers. However, If shoots break off, the seed potato will push out new shoots, so do not be alarmed. As a home gardener, you have an enormous advantage. You can chit your seed by carrying them by hand to your garden and gently planting them into the soil.
When the time comes in the spring, you may find the sprouts forming on their own. Storing them in a cool, dark, dry place is best to avoid this. If sprouted seed potatoes are left out too long, the sprouts are much easier to break. Also, they could start to rot before they are planted. You are in control of this process. Encourage your potatoes to sprout at just the right time.
Your Step-By-Step Guide To Sprouting Seed Potatoes.
- Buy Your Seed Potatoes at least three weeks before your planting date. If you get them earlier, store them properly in a cardboard box or paper sack until it is time to chit them.
- Please put them in indirect light. Do not allow them to be in direct sunlight. The worst thing you can do is dry these potatoes out. Place them on a table in a shady spot in the garden or under bright lights indoors. They will begin to turn green, and the shoots will grow.
- Carry them to the garden. Carefully! Do not break off the sprouts.
- Cut big potatoes into smaller pieces. Each piece should have 2 or 3 sprouts growing from them.
- Plant them in the soil one inch below the surface. Try to place the sprouts pointing up.
Preparing The Soil for Sprouted Potatoes
Potatoes are in the same family as tomatoes and chili peppers. They like a sunny spot and will die if they get too cold. In other ways, they are pretty tough. Many gardeners plant potatoes in weedy areas or recently tilled soil.
Potatoes will choke out any weeds that try to grow around them and can survive with fewer nutrients than many garden plants. Still, there are some tricks gardeners can use to get the most out of their soil.
- Ideally, there has been a cover crop such as fava beans growing all winter. Rototill or work the area shallowly. If the patch is weedy, don’t worry about it. Just pull any established grasses.
- Potatoes will have a rough time forming if they don’t have loose soil to work with.
- Although potatoes grow underground, they sprout from the vines, not the roots. The seed should be far enough underground that the vines will have plenty of space to create tubers.
- Chop the soil below the seed potato and mix in a generous amount of fertilizer. Since the seed will be deep underground, it is hard to add fertilizer once the vines are growing and the hills have formed.
- Each sprouted seed will create two or more large vines.
- Once the vines grow, use a garden hoe to scrape the soil on either side of the row. Pull the dirt and weeds onto the vines. Avoid compacting the soil. Never step in the area where the potatoes are growing.
Are you growing sprouted seed potatoes in the ground or in containers?
For over 34 years, I have tried every way imaginable to grow potatoes, from growing them in the ground, in straw, and on paper. My preferred way to grow potatoes is in containers. It’s amazing the benefits of growing them in containers. I have a blog on that here.
I ran an experiment over four years with growing them in the ground versus growing potatoes in containers. In each experiment, I could double the yield in containers over their ground-grown counterparts. If you want to see those results in the video, you can view them below.
Can you store your potatoes to sprout next year?
If you have not had any disease such as blight, storing your potatoes for the following year is safe. Gardeners will tell you this is not a good practice for all the above reasons. However, if you used proper seed potatoes to start and had no disease throughout the growing season, these will be perfect for storing.
I have stored my potatoes for the past six years without ill effect. I made a video on storing potatoes best to eat and keeping them as seed potatoes for sprouting the following year. You can view that below.
Enjoy Your Harvest
As with any gardening venture, preparation is the most crucial step. Sprouting seed potatoes in advance will pay off in the end. Once the potatoes are in the ground, there is very little work. Just avoid walking in the patch and enjoy watching the vines grow.
You are ready to harvest when the blossoms are finished and the vines fall over. Lift the potatoes out before the autumn rains moisten the soil. Store them in a box or bucket in a dark, dry area. They should stay good all winter.
There is something extraordinary about sitting down to a holiday meal and serving a dish of potatoes you grew in your garden. These potatoes will have flavor and texture that will shame anything you find at the market.
More than this, they have a story to tell. A connection is made across the seasons, from the muddy spring ritual of sprouting and planting potatoes to the giggling children who dig to discover the hidden bounty. The humble potato is a blessing that has been handed across generations.
They are my favorite vegetable to grow. And I have many videos on my YouTube channel of my children’s eyes lighting up with glee when they help to harvest them.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about sprouting potatoes. I trust it answers your question fully. If this interests you, why not consider subscribing to the blog so you don’t miss future content?
You can do this in the right-hand sidebar, and it’s FREE to subscribe. Happy gardening
And remember, folks, You Reap What You Sow!