What does chitting potatoes mean?

Chitting potatoes
It’s that time of year, when my kitchen windowsill fills with egg boxes full of chitting potatoes.

When I began growing my own fruit and veg back in 2006, there were a whole host of horticultural terms and phrases that I had never come across before. Throughout the last decade, I’ve picked up a fair amount of knowledge (I don’t think you ever stop learning and adapting when you’re growing your own), and a bit of a gardening vocabulary as well.

One of the first definitions I picked up was ‘chitting potatoes’.

In short, chitting potatoes means leaving them out in a cool, light space so that the potatoes can start to grow a few sprouts from the speck-like ‘eyes’. Chitting can usually start with earlies and main crop potato types from January or February, and usually a cooler windowsill with a sunny aspect will do. Always opt for seed potatoes (available online or from your local garden centre),  as these will be carefully bred and selected without diseases, and chit ‘blunt’ side up where you’ll likely find the most eyes for sprouting.

Whether you chose to chit your potatoes or not before planting them out when the soil is warm is entirely your choice. There is still an ongoing debate as to whether chitting actually helps the potatoes grow any stronger, faster or more prolifically. Me? I’m of the opinion that if you can give them a head start, then why not.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 visit

botanic garden

Part of the Botanic Garden

This week I headed down to Sloane Square with my mum for this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The weather was a bit crap – overcast and pretty chilly for a late May day – but given the crowds I was actually quite pleased not to be in the glare of a hot sun!

First off we headed for the show gardens, and although at times given the volume of people it was hard to stop and ponder the planting, I really enjoyed the flowing, naturalistic planting schemes that seemed to prevail in the vast majority of the gardens. Wildflowers have definitely made a comeback, with ragged robin a popular choice, and it seemed most gardens were going for purples, whites and a variance on rusty orange or rusty pink.

I suppose just like fashion, preferences for planting are subject to trends. But I like this recent trend. Pollinating flowers like alliums and salvias were in evidence everywhere, as was a certain type of almost milk chocolate-coloured California Iris.

I think my favourite garden had to be the Botanic garden – not for its main feature, a glass house, but for one side of the garden that was planted up in a style that nodded to permaculture, with salvias, lupins, wild carrot, hyssop, beetroot, rhubarb, blackcurrant, gooseberry, french beans, nasturtiums, and all manner of fruit and veg crammed in together to create a bustling, thriving growing space. It definitely gave me lots of ideas for my own patch of the good life.

A close up from the Greening Grey Britain garden

A close up from the Greening Grey Britain garden

The Greening Grey Britain garden was also an inspiration, with some almost prairie-like planting with swathes of plants that are perfect for pollinators, wildflowers including ragged robin and aquilegia (another popular feature in many gardens this year), grasses, and some gorgeous rusty metal bird seed cups that I haven’t been able to locate anywhere! I love the idea of ‘Greening Grey Britain‘, an RHS scheme launched last year in a bid to overcome the paving over of front gardens, driveways and what could be thriving spaces for flora and fauna to reduce flooding, combat localised temperature rises and even subsidence. Want to make a contribution and bring colour and vitality back to the streets of Britain? Then visit the RHS site to make your promise.

So lots of ideas and inspiration, and armed with three new packets of seed (two types of pollinator-friendly Astrantia, and some white ragged robin), I’ve come away determined to make the Smallest Smallholding a living, breathing and productive oasis in my part of suburbia.

Natural planting schemes were everywhere!

Naturalistic planting schemes were everywhere!

Interplanting

Beetroot interplanting
I’m now on week 25 of my pregnancy and boy, have I grown. I have been more determined to keep on growing despite having to take pretty much everything so much more slowly! So I’m quite pleased that despite all this, so far I’ve managed to plant in the onions, shallots, sow carrots, get the potatoes in (albeit it a little late), plant gooseberry bushes, and with my mum’s help last month we got the early peas in, and planted the parnsips and calabrese too.

Whilst this is most definitely progress, with everything yet to mature there’s still a lot of spare space in between the main crops in the big veg plot. So I’ve decided to have a go at interplanting – using smaller, quick-to-mature plants that utilise the spaces between the slower growers like the calabrese and parsnips.

Space between parsnips for interplanting

The beetroot went in about three weeks ago and is doing well. I’m not hugely keen on boiled beetroot so I’m think I might have a go at pickling it myself! And this recent bout of hot, sunny days followed by damp and muggy days has seen an explosion in growing speed. Everything is taking off at great speed so there’s definitely time to get some more lettuces and radishes in as well.

Interplanting can also include thrifty companion plants – complementary flowers or plants that help to create a plant community that can improve pollination or deter pests and diseases. For instance, marigolds are often planted around tomatoes to deter aphids, and nasturtiums are used to attract blackfly away from beans. Calendula are said to help improve the pollination of courgette flowers and mint (keep it planted in the ground in a pot or it’ll grow rampantly) or alliums help keep carrotfly at bay.

I love the idea of planting sweet peas around my legumes to encourage bean flower pollination – I picked up a couple of cheap plants at my local nursery and will plant them close to my early peas. Hopefully they’ll also add some colour and scent to the veg patch too. I might be a practical soul, but I can’t deny I like to see a little bit of pretty in the vegetable garden too…

Munchkin pumpkins

Munchkin pumpkins growing up the arch