Potatoes are a great vegetable to grow if you want something easy to start with children. In comparison to some other vegetables, potatoes really are quite a forgiving vegetable and the ‘chitting element’ of potatoes is actually something that you can do with the children whilst the weather is still cold outside.
Personally, I find that potatoes are a very rewarding vegetable to grow both in the ground and in containers. In the ground takes a little more patience and I would say a little more care but we’ll explain some more about that in the what to do next step at the bottom of the page.
In order to give you all of the information that you need to be able to chit your own potatoes, we are going to answer all of the following questions
- What do I need to chit potatoes?
- Why do I need seed potatoes?
- Where to chit potatoes?
- What can I place them in?
- When will they be ready to plant?
- What to do next?
AND Other fun activities to do with the children during the chitting process
Believe us when we say that you will never forget the taste of that first home grown potato! You will not regret it! So here goes, all the information you need to grow awesome, yummy potatoes with the children.
Why do I need to chit potatoes?
If I am honest, the jury is out on this question and depending on who you speak to, you are going to get a different answer. Essentially, by chitting potatoes, you are giving them a head start before they are planted into the soil. You would probably, in most cases look to chit them around 6 weeks before planting out – this is about average. That said, there is also a good amount of research to suggest that you don’t need to chit potatoes before planting them into the ground but the consensus is that they don’t produce as much of a yield and they will take longer to grow.
My suggestion, if you are planning on planting potatoes with your children is to almost certainly go through the chitting stage. It will create such excitement to see the sprouts coming up and they will be able to see the potato growing before it goes in the ground. And what’s more is that it doesn’t really take that long either. It also helps you put them in the right way for planting later on. Always helpful!
Why do I need seed potatoes?
Technically, you won’t be planting seed potatoes, this is just he terminology used for potatoes that you are going to grow. It is entirely possible to grow potatoes from seed, but generally this does not happen. Even the large potato growers will not grow them from seed (what is found during the flowering stage).
When a potato grows and is harvested, it will lay dormant before it sprouts again, this is why some varieties will store better than others.
‘Seed potatoes’ are available from most major nurseries and garden centres across the UK. You will probably notice them arrive from about February onwards. This is so that you are able to plant them in late March to early April. It is entirely possible to use potatoes that you have bought from the supermarket but when buying seed potatoes, you can be sure that they are at the right time of their dormancy cycle so that you can begin growing sooner rather than later. You can check out some seed potatoes on the Thompson and Morgan site here.
Where do I chit potatoes?
Ideally, you want to chit the potatoes in an ambient temperature of around 10C. This is the optimum temperate to encourage them along. At the time of the year you are chitting, around February, you will probably find that your porch will be about the right temperature for the job.
if you are fortunate to have a greenhouse, this will also have the right conditions to chit the potatoes. As an interesting experiment, you could place them in multiple places to see what conditions your potatoes enjoy the most. You really need to avoid places such as the back of the shed or poorly lit sheds as you will end up with white sprouts, you want them to be green – this shows that they have been in the right conditions.
What can I place them in?
This very much depends on how many you are planning to grow. If this is your first year of growing potatoes, you probably won’t be doing many more than 9 as this will be ample to test out your newly found growing skills and perfect them the year after. Even though we grow more than that, our favourite way to chit them is to simply place them into used egg cartons.
Make sure in January you buy a box of dozen eggs instead of the regular 6, just to make sure you have enough room for them all!
When will they be ready?
Depending on what type of potato you are growing, you will want your first early potatoes to go in around mid March to early April. This will have given the soil enough time to warm up so it is not such a shock.
At this point in time, you are looking for your potatoes to have sprouts that are around 2.5cm in length and they will be a purple to green colour. If they are too much longer than that, it might be worth cutting them off and letting the others grow to the desired length.
One question that we often see asked is, “how many sprouts should they have?” We would recommend that there should be a maximum of around 4 sprouts. If there are any more than that, you risk the potatoes that you produce being smaller. When we plant them up, we tend to go for 2 or 3, in our experience, this has produced the best crop when it is due to be harvested.
If you have more than 4 sprouts, you can simply run them off or cut them off. Sometimes, they will grow back.
What to do next?
As soon your chits have produced sprouts of the right length and colour, they are ready for planting to produce your wonderful potato crop to enjoy as part of a staple family meal. At this point, you can either grow your potatoes in the ground or you can choose to grow them in containers. Our favourite way of growing potatoes is most definitely in containers.
Growing potatoes in the ground
If you have a large space to be able to grow your potatoes, then the ground is certainly an option. However, you will always run the risk of disease. I always find potatoes ascetically pleasing when planted in the ground and fairly low maintenance once planted too. However, it will take a fair amount of physical work to get the ground into a state where potatoes will grow healthfully and also produce a worthy crop.
Growing potatoes in containers
If you are short on space or want to contain the growth of your potatoes, then we would certainly suggest that you look to grow your potatoes in containers. As potatoes are such a forgiving plant, you can use a number of containers. However, from past experience, purpose built potato planters are certainly worth their weight in gold. We actually use these ones that are available on Amazon. They are exceptional value and also have the velcro flap on the front for easy access to you brilliant harvest.
Other fun things to do with the children whilst they are sprouting
As the sprouting process takes around six weeks, there’s some fun that you can have with the children during the process. For instance:
What environment works best?
As you grow confidence in chitting the potatoes, you can set the children the task of seeing which environment works best. Is it the greenhouse, the porch or the windowsill? If you have more than one child, you can certainly turn this into a small competition!
Which variety sprouts quicker?
If you are looking to grow a number of different crops over the growing season, it would be fun to see which crop sprouts first. Whilst it might be a fairly hard race to make fair, may the greatest potato win!
Do the shop bought potatoes sprout faster than seed potatoes?
As we have discussed above, it is possible to turn shop bought potatoes into ‘seed potatoes’ but it is not without it’s complications. However, this can also be a good experiment to show children that actually the potatoes that you can buy in the shops, can also be grown to produce more potatoes. It just helps put things into perspective.
How much have the sprouts grown?
If your children are of an age when learning how to measure things is on the curriculum, then bringing some activities into the home is great for their learning. For this activity, it would be good to measure the growth of the sprouts over the 6 week period or up until they are ready to go into the ground. Keep this in a diary or write it onto the family calendar to keep track of progress. You can also use the measurements to estimate when the chits would be good for planting.