Vegmonkey and the Mrs.

Vegetable growing in a very small space in Cheltenham

Potatoes – buy, chit, plant, earth up, eat – with weetabix!? January 27, 2008

This is the first year of us attempting to grow potatoes. Due to the lack of space we have plumped for a variety called ‘Ulster Sceptre,’ which is a first early. ‘Ulster Chieftan’ and ‘Swift’ were the other options i thought about but the former has relatively poor resistance to disease (not usually a problem with earlies as they aren’t in the ground long enough) and the latter i think is too common!

potatoes chitting in the cinema

The first step to home grown potatoes is debatable. Chitting involves putting the seed potatoes in a light frost free place such as a covered greenhouse or a windowsill so that they begin to sprout. The purpose of this is to give them a head start so that when they go in the ground, they have more of a chance. The sprouts appearing should be green – not white as this indicates they have not had enough light, and should number no more than 3 or 4. If they do appear too early or are white, according to they can be rubbed off up to 5 times before it has any adverse effect on the sprouts that replace them, which is interesting. Timing is everything! However, through reading i have done myself and discussion with other gardeners, it seems it is only necessary if you want a really early crop. It’s also interesting to note that commercial potato growers don’t chit at all.

close up of baby sprout

I am using an old apple holder whatsit that was no longer needed by Morrisons to chit mine in as i didn’t have the foresight to save egg boxes. Silly, i know!

Potatoes should be planted in early March. I am going to dig a trench about 10cm deep, and place the potatoes in the trench about 25cm apart with about 50cm between each row. This will then be covered over by hand, so not to damage the sprouts.  The recommended distance for earlies is 30cm by 60cm but i really do not have the space to plant any closer, and don’t mind the smaller potatoes that will result.  As the potatoes grow, they will need to be earthed up – the RHS describe this as the drawing up of soil around the plant to prevent the greening of tubers by light and to prevent the onset of blight. I am aware that i may have to build some sort of structure to enclose the soil around the plant as it grows, as the beds aren’t hugely deep – a chance to buy more tools methinks!

We will also have some in large black pots that i purchased at the potato event last weekend. They have drainage holes in the bottom, and will each take 3 of the egg-sized tubers, producing no less that 15lb’s per tub! That’s pretty good going in my book. I need to remember to add some slow release organic fertiliser at planting as i always forget ‘in the excitement of planting…’

In the grand scheme planting plan wotsit, the potatoes will be occupying about a quarter of bed 2, the one that houses the roots. I have already manured most of the bed and will be ‘sorting’ the PH at the beginning of the Spring. When they are removed in June, Leeks or Parsnips will go into their space, depending on which have been the most successful in the mini-greenhouse. From past experience, it’ll be the Leeks!

The only problem with earlies is that they don’t store hugely well. Might have to find some interesting ways of cooking them…potatoes with weetabix anyone?


8 Responses to “Potatoes – buy, chit, plant, earth up, eat – with weetabix!?”

  1. Katie Says:

    Thanks for the potato chittin’ tips. We purchased some at the nursery yesterday and the sprouts are white. I’ll have to rub them off and put them in our South-facing garden room to get some sunlight!

    Katie at GardenPunks

  2. Being a New Englander, I always think of chowders when I think of potatoes.

    Here’s a quick recipe for Corn Chowder…(I don’t know if you are a vegetarian or not, and if so…I apologize for the bacon. Leaving it out does no detriment to soup.)

    6 cups of fresh corn kernals (from 6-8 ears)
    6 slices of bacon (optional)
    2 1/2 cups of potatoes, in half inch cubes
    3 cups (or more) of broth (vegetable or chicken)
    1/2 cup cream
    1 tablespoon of mixed dried herbs (such as oregano, basil, etc)
    1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (more to taste)
    chopped fresh chives

    If using bacon, saute in a heavy pot until crisp, and remove and allow to drain. Add potatoes to pot and saute until a gentle golden, about five minutes. Add broth, herbs and cayenne, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are almost cooked through. Add corn. Transfer 1-2 cups to a blender and puree until smooth. Return to the pot. Stir in cream, add more broth if the chowder is too thick, and season to taste with salt. Bring to a gentle simmer. Ladle chowder into bowls and top with chives and crumbled bacon.

  3. Jenny Says:

    Wait a minute. Potatoes take this long to chit? Why didn’t anybody tell me? (I guess you just did.)

    I’m fond of potatoes diced and fried with onions and basil and salt and pepper. Or chopped with other root vegetables, tossed with olive oil, and roasted. Or in an “omelet” (grated and cooked as a big pancake, and then filled with cheese and salsa and folded in half just before serving). Or pretty much any way, really.

  4. vegmonkey Says:

    Katie – no worries, glad i could be of some use!
    Forge Village Farmer – now that sounds fantastic, and yes, both i and the Mrs. love our bacon. I wasn’t going to grow chives this year, but am going to find a spot for them now.
    Jenny – i am going to love all this eating…beats the growing! They do take a while to chit, but you can always rub off the sprouts if they are growing a bit quick! Good luck.

  5. Simon Kirby Says:

    Hi VegMonkey. Good points about chitting. I’ll chit mine, but mostly because they’ll sprout anyway even if I just leave them in the bags – which has happened to me before now. Do you think the four-sprouts thing is right? I’ve heard this before but I reckon it just makes a lot of work, like the advice you’ll find about standing them pointy-end up (or is that down?).


  6. sundaegirl Says:

    Hi VegMonkey, really enjoyed your chitting tips – I’m about to lay out some tubers right now. I somehow wandered and found your blog via Google – I’ve very much enjoyed reading it 🙂
    Sundae Girl (new to WordPress!)

  7. vegmonkey Says:

    Cheers Simon, the four sprouts doesn’t really make sense as they sprout underground further anyway!

    Sundaegirl – thanks for the complements, always nice to know i’m doing something good!

  8. Big Al Says:

    My advice is to grow them in bins or big pots, that way at harvest time you can just kick it over and pick ’em up! If you’re short on space, plant some in your compost heap.

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