Chitting – not just for potatoes

According to my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary ‘Chit’ comes from Middle English chithe, to shoot or sprout, corresponding to the Old Saxon kith.  So the word has roots (sorry) that go back 1200 years or so.  Certainly, it wasn’t a new concept even then.

Chitting is a form of ‘pre-sprouting’ of seeds before you plant them in a growth medium such as compost or soil.  Most gardeners are familiar with doing this for ‘seed’ potatoes which are, of course, tubers.

Basil seedlingsAnyway, we first stumbled across doing this for other seeds when experiencing the normal frustrations of getting parsley to germinate in pots or in the soil.  We decided to grow them on kitchen paper towels to see which ones germinated and get an idea of germination rates.  We could then assess whether the seed was bad or whether the germinated seed were dying later on.  To our surprise, we got nearly 100% germination.  Here’s a box of chitted basil seeds 12 days after ‘sowing’.

What’s cool about chitting is that you can see what’s going on and then plant into compost etc.  It also avoids the need for thinning out.  The downside is that the sprouted seeds are very fragile and easy to damage and you have to keep an eye out so the seeds don’t go too far.  The more growth they put on the fragile roots grow into the paper which makes them difficult to get out safely: as you will see…The basil seeds above have gone a bit far.

So that’s what I did this morning, plant on chitted seeds of lettuce leaf basil, coriander and curly & flat parsley…
We’ve started chitting earlier this year because we want to see if we can be more self sufficient in the annual herbs basil and coriander.  We did well during the summer of 2009 for these and I didn’t buy as much as normal from the shops.  However, I’m using lots and don’t like getting my herbs transported all the way from the south side of the mediterranean.  So we want to grow and use our own knowing how it’s been treated.

The constraints on success in this is our latitude and resultant day length.  We’re at 52°N and now our day length is about 6.5 hours.  We’ll see whether this and low light levels are sufficient for the plants to thrive.

The basil went into three 90mm (3.5″) square pots similar (but stronger) to the ones you get in the supermarket.  I’ve put 9 to the pot which is less that the supermarket varieties but they should grow stronger.  All I did was make a small hole with a pen and then gently lift the sprouted seeds from the paper and firmed them in gently (an oxymoron?).

As an aside, I filled the pots with compost from outside which is at an ambient temperature of about 6°C.  I left the pots on a radiator for a while just to warm through so the seeds would not be shocked at the cold on their bums.  After taking the picture, I covered each of the pots with a plastic bag to help a bit with warmth.

Here are the spouted coriander seeds.  Standard on the left and ‘Confetti’ on the right.

Coriander seedlingsAs you can see, many of these have gone ‘leggy’: they should have been planted 4 or 5 days ago.  Consequently I had a little problem removing some without damage.  The ones that have just sprouted are a doddle.

They were potted on into 25mm (1″) modules in a tray and then covered over with an incubator lid.

I did the same with the parsley seeds.

So now we wait and monitor what happens.  All that potential sitting there, what will it make and taste like?  I’ll give updates as we go.