Look at this Chit – or – Planting Potatoes

Before you get in a tizzy that I’m swearing, I’m not. A CHIT is the green sprout that grows from the eye of a potato. One of my favorite parts of farming is planting potatoes! Do you plant your own potatoes? If not, here’s the scoop…

First, we need to review that day you were absent in 9th-grade biology class.

Determinate and Indeterminate

Potatoes come in two varieties – determinate and indeterminate.

Determinate refers to potatoes (or other veggies) that grow in one place at one time where the seed was planted (like this photo). Determinate potatoes go in the ground about 4″ down and sit there. They spread out, they grow fat. No further effort is needed on your part.

Indeterminate refers to potatoes that grow in multiple places all along the stem. Indeterminate potatoes need to have the soil mounded up around them as they grow. They require a bit of extra effort in the beginning, but they grow more-or-less vertically, so they don’t take up as much space and they tend to yield more than determinates.

Whether to grow determinate or indeterminate depends on your amount of space. If you don’t have a garden at all, you can still grow indeterminate potatoes in buckets on your patio!

I grow both. Here’s how…

For both, you need seed potatoes. You can purchase seed potatoes from any garden site and even at Lowes and Home Depot in the spring. They are small potatoes that have no chemical sprayed on them. You know how the grocery store potatoes don’t grow sprouts in your fridge anymore like they did when you were a kid? That’s because they spray them with a chemical to make them NOT sprout. Ugh. I’d rather see them sprout than to ingest chemicals. Anyway, get some seed potatoes and place them in a sunny window for about a month until those CHITS (sprouts) start growing and get about 1/2 inch long. For both types, I mix 1/3 peat moss with 1/3 Black Kow manure with 1/3 soil (all available at Lowes, Home Depot, or your local garden store). Potatoes like room to spread out and the peat moss gives way as they grow. Potatoes are also pretty heavy feeders, so the Black Kow gives them what they need.

Here’s where the difference comes in…

For determinates, like Yukon Gold, Pontiac Red, or Kenebec White, I plant them in the garden. 4″ down, rows 12″ apart. That’s it.

For indeterminates, like Russets or Butterballs, once they chit, I cut them in pieces with 1-2 chits per piece. I let them dry on some cardboard for a day or two. Once that starchy water dries to a rough skin, I plant 5-6 pieces in a 20-gallon utility bucket with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. The buckets are about $8 each from Lowes and can be used for years, though they don’t hold up well to the freeze, so I put them away in the shed when not in use. I fill the bucket 1/2 full with the soil mix, bury the potato a couple inches (chit and all), and wait. When the plants reach the top of the bucket, I fill to 3/4 with soil, covering the bottom leaves and stems. When the plants reach a couple inches over the bucket, I fill the bucket to the top with soil. Think of the bottom leaves you’re covering with soil as new potatoes, so you’re really growing vertically in layers. After the bucket is full, top off with straw or mulch to keep the sun from touching your potatoes should any try to stick their faces above the soil. Sunshine on a potato will turn it green and can make you sick. They need to stay in the dark.

Harvesting

When the green plants wither and die back, you are ready to harvest. Though, I know the old folks used to leave potatoes in the ground all winter and only dig up what they wanted for supper. If you do that, make sure you get them all before spring or they’ll start to rot. If you harvest your potatoes, store them in a dark, dry place with ventilation. Do NOT wash them before storing. That just brings in moisture and can promote bacteria. Just brush the dirt off, and place in a wooden crate, paper bag, cardboard box, or basket in the dark. Do not store them near onions. Both emit a gas that cause the other to rot faster. Inspect your potatoes weekly throughout the winter. If one goes bad, they will all go bad very quickly. If you store them properly, they will last in the pantry 2-3 months. If you have any left over in the spring, even the wrinkly ones, plant them for more potatoes.

Yield

I’ve found one pound of seed potatoes will grow about 10 pounds of potatoes. That’s the large bag you buy at the grocery store. This photo is about 20 pounds of Pontiac Reds grown from two pounds of seed potatoes. I usually plant a total of 4-5 pounds of seed potatoes for the two of us and we always run out by spring. Perhaps I should plant twice as many and freeze hash browns, french fries, and mashed potatoes, dehydrate for au gratin and scallop potatoes, and freeze fresh potato chips and potato gnocchi. See? You just can’t have too many potatoes!!

Happy planting!

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