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  • Fawn Neun

Stop Paying for Seed Potatoes: Grow from Spud Sprouts Instead!

There’s nothing like the flavor of home-grown potatoes! Unfortunately, the high cost of seed potatoes can be an obstacle. When you consider the cost of a pound of seed spuds against the pounds you’ll harvest, it can seem like a waste of money.

Experts say you only get 3 to 5 pounds of potatoes for every plant you grow. So, depending on the variety, you may get 5 or 6 potatoes per purchased seed potato. And that’s if everything goes right.

But you don’t have to spend a fortune on seed potatoes every year to feed your family. And you don’t have to lose half your harvest of last year’s potatoes for this year’s planting, either.

Try this interesting technique instead. It’s called “potato bud cultivation” or “pull sprouts.” Use the sprouts instead of planting whole or segmented seed potatoes.

What’s most interesting is that research shows you’ll get a higher yield planting just the potato bud sprouts than you will by planting seed potatoes.

And apparently, they’re less likely to develop blight too.

Amazing New Potato Cultivation Science?

This isn’t a new method at all — Chinese agricultural scientists have been experimenting with more efficient ways of growing potatoes since the 1960s. Lately, this technique has started to spread to home gardeners in the U.S.

And it’s so amazingly simple that it’s a wonder we haven’t figured this out years ago.

The frustrating part is that much of the scientific data available is published in Chinese and can’t be accessed via the Internet.

Why Potato Bud Cultivation is Better Than Seed Potatoes

Potato bud cultivation takes more time than simply buying and planting seed potatoes. However, during the winter, when it’s too cold to garden outside, you can nurture and prepare dozens of sprouted potato chits indoors for planting out when the weather turns.

Saves Money

The cost savings are obvious. Growing potatoes using traditional seed potatoes is expensive and wasteful. When you know you’ll find some duds in your spuds, it seems a shame to waste money and precious garden space on random ones that just rot in place.

Growing potatoes from bud sprouts means you can make better use of your garden space by only choosing healthy plants for transplant.

Potato farmers often buy 1,300 to 2,300 lbs. of seed potatoes per acre, but using sprouted buds only requires about 300 lbs. of seed potatoes.

While the cost of seed potatoes may not be that high for a small-scale home gardener, if you’re relying on your own harvested potatoes, it can cut severely into your winter stores.

Gardeners in warmer climates like me (USDA Zones 8 through 11) also have to pay a premium for seed potatoes. Our potato-planting season starts in December in Zones 9 and 10, and most suppliers don’t offer seed until March.

Those that do ship in winter charge a significantly higher price for out-of-season products.

Reduces Plant Disease

One of the most distinct advantages of using sprouted chits is reducing the chances of disease. You can start potato bud cultivation over the winter, which means you’ll get a huge head start on the growing season.

The ability to harvest your fully grown spuds before the summer rainy season starts means less chance of blight.

Not to mention, you’ll get potatoes earlier in the year.

So, How Do You Grow from Potato Bud Sprouts?

Because all the scholarly work is in Chinese, I’ve discovered that sources in English reference three different ways of growing potatoes from bud sprouts.

Growing from Eye Buds

Give any store-bought potato enough time, and its eyes will begin to grow sprouts. They’re still perfectly safe to eat while the sprouts are still small, but don’t let those eye buds go to waste.

Before preparing your potatoes for cooking, carefully cut away each sprouted eye, leaving a nice chunk of potato attached to “feed” the sprout.

You can allow them to dry out for a day somewhere cool and dark. Alternatively, you can plant them immediately into a small pot filled with very moist, very rich potting soil.

Place the pot in bright indoor light and keep moist and warm until spring. The bud will grow roots and sprout, growing into a healthy potato plant with the right care. Then, you can plant them out after your last frost date.

You can eat the remainder of the potato as you normally would after removing the eyes. Sprouted potatoes may become shriveled after time. But if they’re still full and firm, they’re perfectly safe to eat as long as they haven’t turned green.

Using Chits as Seeds

Another popular method I’ve heard about is using chits as seeds. When the potato chits are about an inch long, you can carefully remove them from the potato.

Plant like any other seed, in moist, rich potting soil.

The chits will grow roots and continue to sprout.

Once the plant has reached about 5” long, you can plant them out. Of course, if you haven’t passed your last frost date, you can pot them up into a larger container if necessary.

Grow Potato Slips to Harvest New Plants

This is the method that I tried, and it’s the same one I prefer for starting sweet potato slips. I’ve seen these called “pull sprouts” when referring to Irish potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L.), and “slips” when referring to sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas).

Place your chitted seed potatoes into a shallow growing container filled with good potting soil and slow-release organic fertilizer.

Cover the seed potatoes with soil and keep them warm, watered, and in plenty of light. After about two weeks, the potato chits will become sprouts, then stems, and finally, small seedlings.

You’ll see roots begin to form where the sprouts attach to the surface of the seed potatoes.

Some recommendations I’ve seen say to harvest the small plants when they are anywhere between 5 to 8 inches long.

Carefully remove the new sprouts from the potato, trying to keep as much of the new root intact as possible.

Moistening the soil well around the seed potato before harvesting the pull sprouts makes this easier.

Twist or rock the new seedling gently until you’ve worked the stem and the roots out of the surrounding soil and from the surface of the potato.

Plant the small potato plant into a regular nursery pot, using a good potting mix fortified with plenty of nutrients.

Cover your original seed potatoes back up with potting soil and fertilize them.

Dormant buds will activate, and they’ll continue to sprout from the harvested buds.

You can then continue to harvest new sprouts and pot them up until it’s finally time to plant them outside after your last frost date.

There are also a few alternative methods for cultivating sprouts that work on the same premise that I’ll cover later.

Keep This In Mind

Unfortunately, there isn’t much guidance in the literature in English. So, until there is a freer flow of information from China, you’ll need to use common sense when using this method.

Start on the Right Foot

Even though potato bud cultivation can reduce the chance of disease, it’s still important to start with healthy seed potatoes.

Importance of Growing Medium

With the traditional method, the sprouted chits access moisture and nutrients from the seed potato to support their growth.

So, it’s critical to use potting soil that offers a highly moist and nutritious environment to provide that same type of support.

I use Espomoa Bio-Tone Starter Plus, which offers slow-release nutrients as well as mycorrhizal fungi to support rooting and beneficial bacteria for continued plant health.

The smaller the sprout and the fewer the developed roots, the more critical this is to successfully grow potatoes from bud sprouts.

Alternative Methods

There are two more ways to cultivate pull sprouts or sprouted eye buds from potatoes, so choose what makes sense to you.

No Soil Method

The first alternative method is to chit the seed potatoes on a bed of moist straw, covered lightly with the same. Keep the seeds where they will receive light during the day. This produces healthy green sprouts. Chitting in a dark environment will result in pale, weak potato bud sprouts that won’t transplant as well.

You can remove and pot up the sprouts when they’re about 2 to 3 inches long. In this case, it’s vital to provide a nutrient-dense potting soil and humid environment. Chits this small are still early in their development. They won’t have the seed potato to rely on and tend to have less root mass than those cultivated in soil.

Potato Bud Sprouts Grown From Peels

Another alternative is to grow sprouts from the potato peels alone. For this method, use a knife to cut thick slices of potato peel with a bit of the inner flesh connected.

Lay these cut side down in a tray containing a few inches of good compost or potting soil and cover lightly with the same.

This is similar to the sprouting method I used but allows you to still enjoy your potatoes for dinner.

Does Potato Sprout Planting Have Any Downsides?

Planting from potato bud sprouts does have a few disadvantages. Primarily, it’s more labor-intensive than planting seed potatoes. The good news is that you can start in the fall when you harvest your potatoes and work on cultivating sprouts throughout the winter. There’s no real hurry.

However, you can’t rush things, either. It takes time to chit the potatoes, harvest the sprouts, pot them up, and grow them into plants ready for the garden bed. If you’re not the kind of gardener who plans ahead, you may find this method doesn’t work for you at all.

The last time I looked for seed potatoes for sale online in December, they wanted $18 a pound. The cost of buying food has risen astronomically, but the cost of growing food doesn’t have to be.

Try experimenting with growing from sprouted chits. You may find yourself with more potatoes than you’ve ever grown before.  And that’s a good thing.


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