Hartley Magazine

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If it Fits, it Chits—Sprouting Seed Potatoes in the Greenhouse

potato chitting - 03.2.16Jump-starting vegetables in your greenhouse celebrates the beginning of the year’s growing cycle. But potatoes? I hadn’t considered them as greenhouse candidates until I read the new 35th anniversary edition of my go-to edible book, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon and co-authored this year by Marina McShane.

Now why would I recommend a regional Pacific Northwest book to you who live in the rest of the country? Because this one is chock-full of specifics about how and why vegetables grow. That kind of information adds to the education of home vegetable gardeners everywhere. You can simply adjust suggested planting times for your zone.

For instance—here are two tips about seed potatoes. We’ve all seen potatoes sprout—or chit—in the back of the cupboard. Those go on the compost. You want to plant certified disease-free seed potatoes. And sprouting them on purpose goes by the name chitting.  The small ones, called drops, are planted whole. But for the large ones, the question is, do you sprout them before cutting them up—three eyes to a chunk—or after they’ve chitted?

In the past, I cut my big potatoes before they sprouted and allowed the cut surfaces to toughen and dry out for several weeks. That was to prevent rot when I put them in the cold Northwest soil. Not the optimum procedure, say Marina and Steve.

Their advice? A month before planting, put all your seed potatoes in a 55-degree environment, in bright light but no direct sun. Now here’s the second tip—my observation. Potatoes can chit in your cool greenhouse. It fits the authors’ requirements exactly. Tuck your potatoes along the benches, and around the plants—potatoes as décor, if you will. The buds will start to sprout.

Then at planting time, you carefully slice your large sprouted potatoes. Without disturbing the green buds, gently place the pieces into prepared soil. The small drops are nestled in whole.

Now that the potatoes have transferred their energy into their sprouts, they’re not as vulnerable to rot—so no need for a fungicide. And if you wait to cut the large ones, there’s less chance they’ll desiccate. You’ve given all of them the optimum opportunity for growth.

There’s a lot more great advice in Growing Vegetables. But finding another use for your greenhouse is the best. Happy harvesting!