Early varieties can be started off now for a summer harvest
It’s that time of year when we start to think about the vegetable garden and one of the first we can get started with is early potatoes. It’s too early to plant them in the garden, but it’s the perfect time to buy seed potatoes to prepare for planting. There are three groups of potatoes, first earlies, second earlies and maincrop. Early potatoes are faster maturing and lifted and eaten fresh through the summer, whereas main crop is harvested in early autumn and can be stored over winter. Seed potatoes, which are virus-free tubers grown for planting, are available now from mail order companies, or in garden centres and nurseries, and it’s a good time to buy them.
To give early varieties a head-start we normally chit them, which basically is starting them into growth to encourage the dormant eyes (buds) to develop small shoots. Main crop potatoes aren’t usually chitted because they’re planted later and have a longer growing season.
To chit the potatoes you need to stand the tubers in a light position with a temperature of around 8-10C (46-50F). Much warmer and the growth will be leggy and weak and if colder, growth will be slow and chitting will take a couple of weeks longer. In the correct conditions chitting takes around six weeks.