Being a polytunnel gardener means being able to get first early potatoes a few weeks earlier than you would be able to if you were gardening outside. To really take advantage of this, it is best to 'chit' your first early potatoes. This means simply sitting them in a bright, frost free place to develop shoots before you plant them in your polytunnel. January is the time to begin thinking about chitting your first early potatoes, which can be ordered from a number of reliable suppliers online, or purchased from a nursery or garden centre.
An egg box is the perfect container for chitting potatoes. Each of the potatoes can be placed where the eggs would go and these little cups will hold the potatoes upright. Place them with the 'eyes' facing upwards and before too long you will see the small green shoots beginning to appear. If you do not have any egg boxes then of course there are plenty of other waste materials that could also prove useful in the same way. For example, you could cut some toilet roll tubes in half and use these to support each small seed potato.
A sunny windowsill in an unheated room in your home would be the ideal place to chit your potatoes. If this sort of location is not available then a porch or greenhouse could also prove to be a suitable spot. In the south, a polytunnel may be frost free throughout the winter and if so, potatoes could be chitted in there, though further north, unheated tunnels are not always warm enough for shoots to begin to form.
If you have chosen a suitable location with the right conditions then your first early potatoes should begin to chit and within 4-6 weeks you will see short green shoots that are around 2-3cm long, perhaps a little less. Don't worry about exactly how long these shoots are – the idea is simply that you are giving your potatoes a bit of a head start.
When planting out your first earlies in the polytunnel, as soon as the temperatures have warmed enough in the early spring, simply make sure that they are placed in the ground with the shoots facing upwards. You should then be right on track to get your first earlies earlier than ever before and can be enjoying eating your own produce from your polytunnel earlier than anyone growing food outside in the UK.