Chitting potatoes

2 April 2010
If you've been lucky enough to grow potatoes in your backyard you'd know the sign you look for to indicate when you should harvest.  It's when the green potato tops die down and you're left with bare earth.  Of course, you can harvest before then, but when the top dies, you know that no more growth will follow.  If you were to go out to a commercial non-organic potato farm, you'd probably see them spray herbicide (poison) onto the crop about a week before harvest.  They give their plants a certain amount of time, then harvest.  They need to kill off the green tops so they don't make the mechanical harvesting of potatoes too difficult.  The green tops clog up the machine at worst; at best, it's just more rubbish to deal with during the harvest.

One of our many potato crops in years gone by.  The potatoes are at the back in the middle of the photo.

Potatoes are an important crop for us.  If we want to eat organic potatoes that have not been sprayed with poison a week before harvest, we have to grow them ourselves.  That's fine with me.  Home grown potatoes, like backyard tomatoes, have much more flavour than those bought at the market.  You can also "bandicoot" new small potatoes from the side of the bushes while they're still growing.  There is nothing quite like new potatoes, fresh from the garden that afternoon, simply boiled and served up with a little butter and a sprinkling of herbs.  That, my friends, is one of the perks of vegetable gardening and it doesn't matter how much you can afford to pay for your potatoes at the market, you can never buy that degree of freshness.

Hanno bought Sebago seed potatoes a couple of weeks ago, as they were the only type he could find, but we both wanted Dutch Cream.  We got some Nicolas from the shop, they're similar to Dutch Creams, and I spent a short time cutting them for chitting a couple of days ago.  Chitting is the process of allowing your potatoes to develop shoots before you plant them in the ground.  If the potatoes are a medium size, or small, you don't have to cut them. However, if you have larger potatoes, for the sake of economy, you can cut them in half, making sure you have shoots, or eyes on each half.  Place all the potatoes, or potato pieces in egg cartons to keep them from rolling around and so the cut sides can dry out completely.  Leave them in a shaded light area out of the sun. When the shoots are a few inches long, plant them out in the garden.

I feel like a real farmer when we grow potatoes.  They're substantial and they need to be stored properly; they feel like real crops.  Potatoes make great filling meals with only a few additions - like my kartoffelpuffer recipe here, or as a fine addition to meat when you make your favourite potato salad.  So if you can find a space, take the plunge and grow some potatoes.  Even if you don't have much space, you can grow potatoes successfully in wire cages.  Just poke four star pegs into the grown, wrap chicken wire around them, place some compost in the bottom of the cage with potatoes on top and cover with soil and straw.  As the potatoes grow, keep adding compost mixed with soil and straw and each time the green tops grow again, add more.  You'll get good potatoes growing them like this but nothing is as good as potatoes grown in the garden bed.  By the way, don't grow potatoes in old car tyres.  Tyres contain many chemicals, including cadmium, and it's best to keep them well away from your garden.

There is no doubt about it, potatoes are an excellent crop for the backyarder.  If you haven;' tried them yet, take the dive this year. I'm sure you'll be pleased you did.

Growing organic potatoes fact sheet.

If you're a new gardener living on the Sunshine Coast or northside Brisbane, Sonya will be presenting some workshops for beginners on April 18,  go here to find details.  I know Sonya and I'm sure your money will be well spent.


  1. Oooh! I'm inspired! I love potatoes, and to be able to grow my own would be fun. I use them all the time! I just might take the plunge this year. :) Thanks for the post!

  2. Thanks for this post. I have potatoes growing and this was a post I needed to help me remember what I am doing with them. It has been a long time since I did grow them so a refresher is a good thing.


  3. Timely advice - I am looking forward to growing potatoes this year for my first time! We have some Scottish seed potatoes, a variety called Picasso which my friend grows - they make the most beautiful baked potatoes and roasted ones are the most delicious! Too much rain here this weekend to be outside much, but I am going to be looking through my seeds and maybe beginning to sow some. AND I have chicks hatched out this morning too in my incubator - real chicks for Easter!!

  4. Potatoes grow very well around here and I take advantage of that and plant plenty. They also keep well in cold storage.

    I remember a couple of years ago when I first learned that the grain crops around our area were sprayed with Round-up (herbicide) to effectively kill the plant so that it would be ready to harvest in a few days. I was shocked, I don't know why, I know they spray at other times, but right before it goes to market seemed especially wrong. I have been more careful to buy organic since learning this.

  5. Yummmm, I love potatoes! I remember as a child on my Great Aunt's farm, my cousins and I pulling them off the plants, washing the dirt off and just eating them - skin and all. I still love raw potatoes!

  6. Dear Rhonda,
    Nice to have you back. You have been missed so much. Glad the break was refreshing. Your garden looks great and Hanno has been busy with his planting out. We have had so much rain as you know but you have inpired me to return and plant some more. Thank you Rhonda for your continued support to everyone through your blog.
    There is no other blog like your's full of so much knowledge, wisdom and good old common sense. Blessings to you & your family

  7. Potatos is something I haven't grown. Thanks for the info.

  8. My husband can't have a meal without potatoes. He is a meat and potatoes kind of guy. We do grow potatoes in our garden. You are right--those 1st little ones are such a treat. Thank you for the post about potatoes and planting. I didn't know about the herbicide spray. I just know store potatoes are never as tasty as ours.

  9. we, or should I say the kids recently planted potatoes in our small veggie patch. They have a great time digging them all up!! They are really the easiest thing to grow.

  10. Hi Rhonda, I had never seriously considered growing potatoes but your small area advice is encouraging. I love that word "chitting", should be handy for Scrabble!

  11. When we had a garden, potatoes were always my favorite. They always taste so much better when homegrown. Wish we could have a garden now, but the moles & gophers would eat it all.

  12. I am growing potatoes, too, Rhonda. Tht kartoffelpuffe recipe looks wonderful---I make a similar recipe, but it has a couple of Tablespoons of beer in the mix as well. Adds lots of lovely flavour!

  13. We have never tried potatoes. We grow just about everything else, though. I worry about them being space hogs, but yours don't seem to take up too much of your squares. If it's not too late for us down here in Texas, then I might talk to hubby about it this weekend.

  14. My Mother grew potatoes in our garden when I was a child. I may have to give it a go this year!

  15. Perfect timing with this post. We bought our very first seed potatoes last week, and didn't know quite what to do with them! I have a feeling I'll be chitting tomorrow. : ) Melissa

  16. I planted potatoes this year and several people asked me why, since potatoes are so cheap in the stores! I explained my reasoning to them, but then decided that if I have to explain it, they probably won't understand anyway! But I continue touting the wonders of growing your own veggies and herbs, even if you live in the city (as I do) and have nothing but pots to plant in! Keep up the good work on explaining why we do what we do! Karin

  17. Freshpotatoes is så nice, it´s an importent part of the Swedish midsummer tradition.

  18. This is wonderful--thank you so much. I am just about to try growing potatoes in our tiny backyard for the firs time (at the request of my 5 year old) and I'm looking for all the advice I can get.

  19. Rhonda, I am just digging the last of my potatoes now.. yum.

    you mention early varieties.. which ones are they? I think it is still too early to plant next years crop here in the mountains?
    can you grow them year round up there?

    thanks for telling of chitting potatoes, never heard of it!

  20. Once again, thank you for a wonderful post full of useable, useful information! I feel ready to plant some potatoes now!

  21. THANKS so much for a timely (welol, timely in my world) and informative post, Rhonda. I have been wanting to grow potatoes, and have known only very little about the process. You've motivated me!
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  22. Hi Rhonda, Love your post on the potatoes, we just planted ours 2 weeks ago for the first time. No sign of anything yet but we are hoping we've done everything right.
    I was looking at one of your pictures with your lemon tree in the background and it is beautiful, I was wanting to ask you a question, our lemon tree leaves are all curling we think there is something wrong with it. Have you heard or seen of this? or have any info?
    Erika (Gold Coast)

  23. Hello, thank you for this. This year - 2010 - is my year for getting serious with my veg garden! No more excuses.

    Can you please answer a question about chitting, though: my father in-law swears that potatoes never work/are not as good when you use this method. I don't see any evidence of that in your post and your way seems far more economical and hands-on to me. But... if you or any of your readers could confirm, I'd really like to settle the score. What have your/your readers' experiences been with chitting potatoes and planting those compared to starting from seed?

    THank you if you can help :)

  24. Oh... there is no need to waste the potato plant ;-) !

    Please let me share my 2 cents ...

    In Liberia, Africa , there is this delicious dish made from the potato leaves.
    After cleaning the leaves and chopping them (like you will chop spinach), throw them in a pot with your favorite seasonings, cook them until really tender (eliminated/evaporating any water remaining in them), in the meantime you can stir fry onions, red bell peppers, shrimps (optional), tomato sauce in whatever oil you use and seasoned it to taste with your favorite seasonings and once the stir fry is done you dump the already cooked potato leaves in it.
    They actually taste a bit like spinach when cooked.
    They are delicious accompanied with rice !

    The leaves once washed can also be chopped and store in the freezer for later consumption.

    And how great that you get to use the whole plant... no waste !

  25. My 1st Bambina, POTATO LEAVES ARE POISONOUS. So are tomato leaves, never eat them. I think you might be using sweet potato leave, which can be eaten but regular potatoes have toxic leaves.

    Ms R, we can grow potatoes all year here. We just use what's in the shops at the time.

    Erika, your tree has leaf curl disease. Google leaf curl and citrus leaf miner, choose the Australian answers and read the organic solutions. You'll need to pick off the leaves and give it some seaweed tea as a pick me up.

    Being me, I think chitting and growing from seed give about the same results. It depends more on the climate - some years are good for potatoes, some aren't. I like planting the potatoes with shoots, some people don't see the need.

  26. Rhonda Jean, thank you for your really informative points. Guess who's going back to the FIL now to discuss.... ;)

  27. Rhonda, I was was wondering if you have trouble with the 28 spot ladybird on your potatoes? Every time I plant, the bushes get destroyed really early, and the potatoes are still tiny. Just wondering if you'd ever had this problem, or had any suggestions on what to do about it?

    1. Lady birds are a good sign as they eat Aphids...they don't destroy plants...they like to eat the insects that suck the sap from plants...

    2. Lady birds are a good sign but not 28 spotted ladybirds. They destroy the plants. Rinelle we don't have a real problem with them. We get a few but can easily pick them off if we see them.

  28. I've never had a great crop of potatoes when grown in soil so this year I'm ringing the changes. I have a large empty compost bin and will be growing the potatoes in that with some well rotted chicken straw. I've been stacking it for the last 6 months so it's almost ready to use.

  29. Kartofelpuffer are on the menu in our house quite frequently. They are a variation of the German original and are even made from sweet potato these days. Unfortunately, there are no crops here for us to dig up :(

  30. Thanks for the warning on potato leaves !
    My husband is from Liberia and he tells me that he never ate sweet potato leaves while in his homeland but
    the regular potato leaves, though he can't recall which of the varieties. (I've eaten some myself.)
    When we get in touch with my In-laws I will ask them which of the potato varieties they cultivate.

  31. Glad to see you back Rhonda! I would have said hello sooner but my internet was cut off for almost a week! eek! Anyway, thrilled to see you blogging again. Take care.

    I never knew you could cut potatoes for chitting. For economy's sake and the price of seed potatoes I wonder if cutting a medium sized seed potato in half would give you twice as many to plant out.....hmmm.


  32. Jennifer, it will work. Just leave the seed potato to develop shoots. If it develops shoots on both sides, you can cut them. Each cut piece needs to be a fair size and have at least one shoot. Make sure you allow the cut side to completely dry before planting.

  33. My in-laws were visiting this past few weeks and I finally had the chance to ask my MIL and she says that the potato leaves they eat are from the white sweet potato not from regular potatoes. Thanks so much for the advice on this !


Comments with links or email addresses won't be published. All spam and business advertising will be deleted.

Children read my blog so I always make sure the information here is family-friendly. I don't publish comments containing links or email addresses now because I don't have time to check them.

All comments in English, please. Thank you.