Written by Dale Richardson - Updated: June 23, 2023
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If you have ever forgotten a potato in the back of the cupboard only to pull it out a few months later when it is covered in long sprouts, then you know how easy it can be to get potatoes to grow eyes. This process, also known as chitting, is an old garden technique to give seed potatoes a jump start on the season. Here are some tips to help your seed potatoes sprout strong, healthy eyes.
Seed potatoes grow eyes best in a warm spot with plenty of light. Place the potatoes in a sunny window or under a lamp with the temperature around 10°C to 15°C, and eyes will begin to grow in a week or so. After 3 to 4 weeks, your sprouted potatoes will be perfect for planting.
Sprouting potatoes before planting has a number of benefits and is easy to do. Let's look at some of the benefits, and different methods to chitting your own seed potatoes.
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Start chitting your potatoes about a month before you want to plant them. Potatoes will grow eyes best when the temperature is between 10°C to 15°C (50°F-60°F). This nice warm environment makes them think it is spring so they begin to wake from their hibernation.
They also need plenty of light. Placing them in a sunny window is ideal, but putting them under a lamp works well, too. Potatoes will sprout eyes in the dark (like the one we pulled from the back of the cupboard) but these eyes will be soft, white, and not as vigorous when planted. The eyes of the potatoes in the sun will be greener and healthier and will grow better.
In about one week, eyes will start developing. The eyes are very fragile so try to keep the potatoes from rolling and snapping them off. Placing them in a tray or an old carton is a great way to keep them safe. Sometimes, a single seed potato will produce upwards of ten eyes. Snap off most of the eyes, leaving 2 to 4 of the healthiest ones. If there are too many eyes, the plant will put all of its energy into growing competing stems and will only produce a few small potatoes.
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Though it may look like a typo, there is a big difference between potato seeds and seed potatoes .
When a potato plant flowers, the flower produces a small fruit that looks like a hard, green tomato. Inside this fruit is the potato seed. This seed can be planted and you will have a nice harvest of potatoes in the spring. However, the seed does not necessarily produce the same variety as the mother plant, and it is a bit trickier to grow potatoes this way.
The traditional way to grow potatoes is to plant a seed potato, which is actually the tuber. In layman's terms, this is a potato that, instead of eating, you stick in the ground to grow more potatoes. The potatoes you harvest will be the same as the seed potato that you planted. We are going to talk about sprouting these seed potatoes before we planting.
Image by Carmen Edenhofer
If potatoes bought from the grocery store sprout eyes in the back of the cupboard, why spend extra money on actual seed potatoes? There are some advantages to buying certified seed potatoes. These potatoes are sold from government inspected suppliers, and are supposed to have a better growth rate.
That being said, some of the best potato crops I ever harvested came from potatoes bought at the grocery store. However, there are a few things to watch out for. Many potatoes sold for human consumption are treated with a chemical that inhibits eye development, so these potatoes will not grow in your garden. To make sure your potatoes will sprout, purchase certified organic potatoes as they will not have been treated with this chemical.
Another potential problem with growing potatoes from the grocery store is that they can carry diseases that are not usually present on seed potatoes. Again, buying organic potatoes, especially from a small, trusted farm is the way to go.
Read Next: Jacket potatoes from your own garden.
Image by Carmen Edenhofer
Chitting potatoes gives them a head start before planting, allowing you to harvest your potatoes several weeks earlier than usual . This is particularly beneficial if you live in an area with a short growing season where potatoes have a hard time reaching maturity before the frost comes.
After they are harvested, potatoes go dormant to protect themselves. Most potatoes naturally go dormant for two to three months, but farmers will cure potatoes so this is extended for most of the winter. When the potato breaks from its dormancy, it begins to sprout eyes and prepares for growing. When we chit potatoes, we are waking them up from their dormancy so they are ready to be planted in the garden.
Chitting potatoes is a great way to give your garden a head start. It is easy to do and can give you a bountiful harvest of early potatoes. It is always nice to see new growth sprouting inside while it still too cold to work in the garden.
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