In cooler areas like Lancashire, seed potatoes can be ‘chitted’ from early to mid February. Chitting simply means encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting. It’s a process used to speed up and, in theory, increase the size of the crop.
Quite simply, chitting involves standing the spuds in a light, cool spot for six weeks, during which time short, hard shoots will form giving plants a head start.
So, start chitting about six weeks before you intend to plant out the potatoes. For a small number of potatoes you can use old egg boxes. For larger numbers you might prefer to use seed trays with crumpled newspaper in to keep the tubers standing upright.
Each seed potato has a more rounded, blunt end that has a number of ‘eyes’. Stand the seed potatoes with the blunt end uppermost in the trays or old egg boxes, with plenty of natural light. A temperature of around 8C-10C is about right for your spuds, but they must definitely be kept frost-free. So a porch, conservatory or an integral garage with windows is ideal, or you could use your greenhouse if you’ve got one.
The shoots should be small, knobbly, and green/purple in colour. If you end up with long, white coloured shoots, it means there’s not enough light so you may have to consider moving your potatoes.
The potatoes are ready to be planted out when the shoots are 1.5-2.5cm (0.5-1in) long.