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Chitting Seed Potatoes Before Planting

Potatoes are usually grown from what is called "seed potatoes," seed potatoes are not true seeds. They're potatoes that are meant to be grown to produce more potatoes. Seed potatoes are dormant, like any other tuberous garden plant, when you buy them. Chitting is a method used to sprout seed potatoes before planting. Last year I grew my potatoes in a bucket on the porch and had great success, even though I never chitting involved. This year I decided to give chitting a try.

Planting seed potatoes

Here is what the seed potatoes looked like in March shortly after buying them from the D. Landreth Seed company. On the right is a Peruvian Purple potato and on the left is a German Butterball, both of these are heirloom potatoes.

seed potato planting and sprouting

Here's a closer view of the seed potatoes. When potato tubers are dormant they're smooth and look like stones, but looking closely you can spot the eyes of the tuber from where it will sprout. I've planted seed potatoes at this stage without any problems, but this year I was going to experiment with chitting the seed potatoes before planting them in buckets.

Chitting seed potatoes, planting seed potatoes

The Royal Horticultural Society, where I turn to for a lot of garden advice, has instructions for chitting seed potatoes that I find are more complicated than they really need to be. Basically, the RHS recommends placing seed potatoes on cardboard egg cartons in a cool & dry location with moderate light. If you have ever bought potatoes you know they'll sprout right in your kitchen. So, I just left my seed potatoes in a paper bag in the pantry and let them do what they normally do. The photo of the potatoes above shows what they looked like as they started to break dormancy a week later and the tubers began to sprout.

Chitting, sprouting, potatoes for planting

No, this is not an alien egg it's a seed potato after a week of chitting. As you can see most of the eyes have sprouted and the potato is ready for planting two weeks since I started chitting them. See how wrinkly they are compared to the seed potatoes above? The stems are feeding on the energy reserves of the tubers but they'll be alright. One thing to keep in mind when storing seed potatoes after you've bought them and while chitting them is that they shouldn't be kept too warm. The shoots grow fast and leggy when kept too warm.

Planting them was easy, I just laid them in the container like I did last year when I grew potatoes in a bucket and covered the stems with soil as they grew up above the soil line. My biggest challenge in growing food in an urban garden is that I lack space and so I have to cut corners and improvise a lot. Chitting seed potatoes before planting them may be useful with gardeners with lots of room to store things and those with short growing periods. After chitting the seed potatoes are ready for planting in the garden, but the process seems unnecessary to me. By the time the tubers had sprouted indoors they would've already been growing in their respected buckets in the container garden. I'm content with doing things my way and planting the still dormant seed potatoes in their container and letting them sprout naturally when the soil warms up.


  1. I enjoyed reading this post MBT. It's just so darned much fun experimenting, even if you end up back at the tried-and-true ways you like best. Maybe one of these days I'll try some potatoes in a bucket. I can sure empathize about not enough space. Our yard's not small, but there's just not enough sunny space for all the veggies I'd like to grow.

  2. p.s. that sprouted potato kind of looks like some kind of belly-up critter in rigor mortis! ;)

  3. @GardenGirl, That's funny! It does look like that, eh? I have a few pictures of sprouted seed potatoes that look like weird creatures, I'll have to upload them.

  4. I have always wanted to grow potatoes—along with a million other things—but I just haven't done so yet. I have a neglected community garden space I expect to keep for a few years and maybe those might be a fun new project to begin over there. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. It seems logical that starting the sprouting process before planting would result in earlier harvests, but in practice I just haven't found that to be true. I wonder though, what would happen if you started them early in pots instead? Maybe there's something magical about dirt.

    German Butterball is a great variety, by the way. I've grown them for several years. Good flavor, good yields.

  6. The one time I grew my own potatoes I cut the seed potatoes in pieces. I take it that is not necessary? Would like to find a spot to grow some more - they were so good. Meant to try your bucket this year, but never got to it.... maybe next year!

  7. I don't bother chitting. As you mention, there's the space issue -- I don't really have any suitable place that either the kids or the cats don't have access to. I've always just planted them dormant, and they've done fine.

  8. Hi MBT,

    The year I grew potatoes my children were fascinated how they came out of the ground. I only have room now to grow them at the U of I Extension farm, above ground in cages with dirt added as they grow.


  9. Kathleen5:41 PM

    Our best potatoes have been out of our compost pile, which leads me to believe they will grow as long as they have great soil.

  10. This is what I am going to tell people who find the sprouting potatoes in my cabinets from now on-- oh, I'm chitting them!

  11. Hi - I've found that chitting in the light gives me shorter, stubbier,greener roots which won't be so close to the soil surface when planted. This means I can plant them a little earlier safe in the knowledge that they won't be susceptible to any frosts. I've found with the 'store cupboard' method the roots are much thinner and longer and it's been quite difficult to plant them without leaving some of the root on the soil's surface. If a frost comes along, that bit of root gets burnt and the potato's growth gets halted whilst it recovers.

    The received wisdom on this side of the pond is that chitting is beneficial to early cropping varieties, but not needed for the later ones.

  12. I don't always chit mine, if they happen to have sprouts when I plant them that's great - if not - I don't really worry about it. I've never really noticed that they grow faster - but that might be a good experiment some day. I think the weather probably plays more of a role in how quickly the potatoes grow. This spring ours have done really well, and I think it's the nice warm even weather we're having. Should be harvesting new potatoes this week and the early crop in July. Still planting my late crop for winter storage.

    I've never tried German Butterball - you'll have to let us know how good it is. I'm partial to Kennebec as it's superb fried!

  13. @Ann, You should grow some potatoes in your garden. They're really easy to grow and harvest. Probably my faveorite no-fuss veggie to grow.

    @TanglesBranches, Hmm, I think you just have me my potato project for next year.I too am wondering how they'd do if you started them indoor in soil. Although, I probably don't have enough sunlight to keep them happy.

    @Webb, That was going to be next year's post. A comparison of cut potatoes versus potatoes planted whole. Since these are so small I don't really see the point in cutting them. Also, having to worry about fungus or rot if they're not properly dried out before planting seem like too much of a hassle. Although, if I were growing larger potatoes in my container garden I would probably think about cutting them into chunks.

    @Colleen, Woot, glad to find another person who doesn't feel like the chitting is necessary. Hopefully one day we both have enough space to where we can do things like that without worry about little hands or pets getting to them before planting. :0)

    @Gatsbys Gardens, I'm really surprised by how little space a potato tower or two woould take to grow a decent harvest. I think more people should grow them in urban environments and not just for the cool factor either.

    @Kathleen, Compost plants are the best, right?

    @Xan, LOL.

    @VP, Thanks for providing perspective on growing potatoes across the pond. Someone on Twitter mention that chitting would be beneficial to those gardeners in areas that are cooler because they could rot in the soil if it wasn't warm enough for them to sprout on their own. That's a great point.

    @Chiot's Run, Thanks for adding your perspective to the convo. I'll definitely let you know what I think of ther German Butterbals and I'll look into the one you mentioned for growing next year.

  14. great thread folks...i farm 1o acres organically and in th process of making a potatoe order for th e first time. I am wondering how one keeps the potatoe from "chitting" until i am ready (or allowed) to plant. my concern is not getting the varieties i want if i dont order them now. We may not plant until late spring.
    thank you

    1. Four Frog Farm,

      When you're growing bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes. The way to keep them from sprouting before you have time to plant them is to keep them in cool and dark conditions.

  15. When planting in buckets, how many potatoes do i put to the 5 gal bucket?

    1. Carol,

      I usually do 2-3 seed potatoes per 5 gallon bucket. I may do 4-5 if they're particularly small seed potatoes, or if they're a smaller potato variety.



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