Should you chit potatoes?
“To chit or not to chit?” that is the big question. Before thinking about that further we should say that it is absolutely not compulsory and a matter of personal preference.
Opinion is divided!
Most allotment holders and vegetable growing enthusiasts would chit their potatoes, however commercial growers do not for obvious practical reasons.
If you have ordered early and your seed potatoes arrive while the soil is still cold then chitting them makes sense, if later in the season once the soil is warmer then probably best to plant straight into the soil.
Potato plants need ‘earthing up’ as they grow, to protect early shoots from frost damage and ensure the developing potatoes aren’t exposed to light, which turns them green and poisonous. It’s a simple process – once the stems are about 23cm (9in) tall, draw soil up around them, creating a ridge about 15cm (6in) high. As the stems grow, repeat the process several times. The final height of the ridge should be 20–30cm (8in–1ft).
Keep the plants well watered in dry weather – particularly once the tubers start to form. Maincrop potatoes benefit from a nitrogen-rich fertiliser around the time of the second earthing up.
Planting time varies, depending on the type of potato you’re growing:
First earlies – around late March
Second earlies – early to mid-April
Maincrops – mid- to late April
The timing also depends on where you are in the country – planting should be slightly later in colder regions and can be earlier in milder ones. And when growing in containers, you can plant earlier too.
Potatoes need a sunny site. Avoid planting in a spot prone to late frosts, as the newly emerging foliage is susceptible to frost damage in April and May. Prepare the ground, ideally the previous autumn or winter, by digging in plenty of organic matter such as garden compost or well-rotted manure.
The traditional planting method is to dig a narrow trench 12cm (5in) deep. Space the tubers 30cm (1ft) apart for earlies and 37cm (15in) for maincrops, in rows 60cm (2ft) apart for earlies and 75cm (30in) apart for maincrops. Apply a general-purpose fertiliser at this stage.
Other planting methods
Potatoes can also be grown under black polythene sheets. The tubers are planted through slits in the polythene. The advantages of this method are that there is no need to earth up, and new potatoes form just below the surface, so there’s little or no need to dig.
Small crops of potatoes can also be grown in large, deep containers. This is a good way to get an early batch of new potatoes. Fill the bottom 15cm (6in) of the container with potting compost and plant one seed potato just below this. As the new stems start growing, keep adding compost until the container is full.
After all the work, time to enjoy your rewards. Follow this simple recipe below:
100g butter, softened
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 large red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp drained capers, chopped
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (or Henderson’s Relish to make the recipe vegetarian)
2 tbsp mixed chopped fresh parsley, chives and tarragon
1 kg small to medium waxy potatoes, such as charlotte
2 tbsp olive oil
You’ll also need Large frying pan; compostable baking paper Method
Mix the butter, garlic, chilli, lemon zest, capers and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl until smooth and evenly blended. Stir in the fresh herbs, then season. Roll in compostable baking paper and keep chilled until required.
Put the potatoes in a large saucepan of lightly salted water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so until the potatoes are tender. Drain, refresh under cold water and leave to cool. Using the flat side of a large knife blade or the heel of your hand, lightly smash the potatoes to crush or slightly flatten them. Chill in a plastic container.
When ready to cook, heat the oil in a large frying pan over a hot fire/ barbecue. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and crisp (about 8-10 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the prepared chilli butter until evenly coated.