Potato harvesting is a very exciting 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. Just when it seems you have found 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 such a delightfully easy crop, every garden should have a patch.
Is it worth sprouting seed potatoes before planting? That depends on the potato, Let me explain. 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, those with a short growing season are planted early and benefit from sprouting before putting in the soil. Later varieties don’t gain much growth due to the warm temperatures already present.
In the spring, when you begin sprouting seed potatoes, you are beginning a process that will bring you much fun and enjoyment. In this article, I will explain the pros and cons of sprouting (chitting) seed potatoes. Discover the most interesting 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 that are totally 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 centre have no chemicals and are certified to be disease-free.
Is it worth sprouting potatoes from the store?
When I first started growing potatoes in my garden, I wanted to save money, so I sprouted potatoes from the kitchen cabinet. At the end of each summer, I harvested a small basket of delicious, starchy potatoes. Then one year my potato vines all turned yellow in early summer and the crop was a complete failure. 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 centre 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 centres will have three basic types of seed potatoes for sale; red-skinned, a golden, and a brown-skinned ‘baker’. A garden store with a lot of imagination will offer some interesting exotic varieties. Blue potatoes, pink-fleshed potatoes, and fingerling potatoes all have become very popular.
These potatoes are known as determinate and indeterminate potatoes. What do each of these mean?
These are varieties of potatoes that grow in just one layer, they do not require mounding and an ideal potato variety to use if soil levels are shallow, or to plant multiple layers in a deep box. These are akin to 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 a new tuber is formed. These are late crop or main crop poatoes in the UK or Europe
Try a mix of varieties in your potato patch this year. Discover which is your favorite. As long as 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 they don’t store as well. For this reason, I always eat these first and am sure to 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 on what varieties are and what growing conditions they fall under, check out a video I made below on the very subject.
Finally, I may from time to time look in seed catalogues for the more interesting heirloom varieties. Consider growing the Ozette potato. A long, white fingerling potato, this variety was grown by the Makah Native American tribe in the Pacific Northwest for centuries. It has was only rediscovered a few decades ago. It has been proven to be a good performer with a delicious flavour.
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– When you buy seed, it is best to choose the smallest you can find. 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 stronger vines.
It is common practise to cut potatoes to save money. If you do decide to 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 assure that potatoes get off to a great start once the are in the soil. Commercial farmers don’t have the luxury of chitting their seed 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 because you will be carrying them by hand to your garden and very gently planting them into the soil.
When the time comes in the spring, you may find the sprouts forming on their own. It is best to avoid this by storing them in a cool, dark, dry place. If sprouted seed potatoes are left out for 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 3 weeks in advance of your planting date. If you get them earlier, just store them properly in a cardboard box or paper sack until it is time to chit them.
- 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 to table in a shady spot in the garden or under bright lights indoors. They will begin to turn green and the shoots will start to 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 quite 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 the gardener 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 are growing, 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.
Growing sprouted seed potatoes in the ground or in containers?
gardening for over 34 years I have tried every single way imaginable to grow potatoes. From growing them in the ground, in straw and in paper. My most prefered 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 was able to double the yield in containers over their ground grown counterparts. If you would like to see that results in video you can view it below
Can you store your own potatoes to sprout next year?
Yes, providing you have not had any disease such as blight, it is safe to store your own potatoes for the following year. You will be told by gardeners that this is not a good practise for all the reasons mentioned above. However, if you used proper seed potatoes to start and had no disease throughout the growing season then these will be perfect to store.
I have stored my own potatoes for the past 6 years with no ill effect. In fact, I made a video on this very subject on how to best store potatoes to eat and to store 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 important step. Sprouting seed potatoes in advance will pay off in the end. In fact, once the potatoes are in the ground, there is very little work to do. Just avoid walking in the patch and enjoy watching the vines grow.
When the blossoms are finished and the vines fall over, you are ready to harvest. Lift the potatoes out of the soil 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 wonderful about sitting down to a holiday meal and serving up a dish of potatoes that you grew in your own 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 discover the hidden bounty. The humble potato is a blessing that has been handed across the generations.
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And remember folks, You Reap What You Sow!