The way out here

Little spuds

By HUNTER HILL
Posted 11/10/21

You wouldn’t think there would be too much to do, gardening-wise, after these recent frosty mornings we’ve been having, but as it turns out, there are more than a few things left to take …

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The way out here

Little spuds

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You wouldn’t think there would be too much to do, gardening-wise, after these recent frosty mornings we’ve been having, but as it turns out, there are more than a few things left to take care of before winter asserts itself.

We’ve been very fortunate to get our apples this year from elsewhere, since we’ve sold our house and lost the apple trees we would normally harvest. The bright side of that is that we didn’t have to wait for the frost to snap in order to start picking them. I love those old heritage apples, but I’d get nervous as I tried to defend them from the deer while the apples awaited that final stage of development. Having bought a few extra to sell at our fruit stand, it’s been a welcome little reprieve to not have to go pick them as well.

While we may not have to reach up into the trees, our backs have not been fully spared, as we had a potato harvest to bring in. A week or so prior to the hard frosts, my wife’s grandfather drove his generation-worn little Allis Chalmers tractor and potato digger down to our patch to help us see what became of the thousand or so potato plants we tried to grow this year.

If you’ll recall my column earlier this year, “One potato, two potato, three potato, a thousand,” my wife and son diligently aided in sowing our first-ever attempt at a potato patch, about a half-acre in size or so. We planted Kennebecs and Red Pontiacs and were happy to see the bushes grow as we impatiently updated our spud-experienced elders on their status throughout the summer.

We were told the potatoes weren’t ready, over and over. It seems that one of the main indicators is for the aboveground portion of the plant to fall over and die. If you follow this, in a few weeks’ time, you can reach into the soil to individually check the size and skin of the potatoes. If the skin appears firm and doesn’t slip to the touch, they are ready to be dug up.

It took longer than anticipated, but they finally got to this point and the good part was about to begin.

As we met my wife’s grandfather, he poised his small tractor at the start of our first row, adjusting the settings and levers on his potato digger to begin pulling what we hoped would be a bounty of Irish gold out of the ground. Rorick, our son, waited by excitedly as well. If he had it his way, he would have dove right in with a garden trowel to retrieve each potato himself. Thankfully technology allowed both him and us the opportunity to not find out how to harvest them manually.

With a low putt-putt-putt, the tractor leaned forward and the digger dipped into the soil, dragging like the open maw of a whale shark through the ground, lifting dirt and rocks and potatoes up onto its shaking bars which filtered out the inedibles before dropping the newly dug potatoes on top of the ground behind. As Grandpa finished that first pass and we surveyed the ground he had dug, we knew we had been successful. It reminded me of a great film called “Faith Like Potatoes.” There was a climactic moment at the end of the film, before they started digging, when they didn’t know if they would lose the farm if the potatoes hadn’t grown, but then all were relieved when their faith and hard work paid off.

Now our farm wasn’t dependent on the success of our potatoes, but after botching a few other crops this year, it was a great final harvest for us, letting us feel like we did, in fact, accomplish something.

As Grandpa moved on to each row, digging up new potatoes, my son Rorick rushed in to begin inspecting the dirty treasures. To his mother’s dismay, he unwaveringly sampled the chocolate-covered raw potatoes; not just once I might add. What can I say, this kid will be immune to everything in a couple of years.

After allowing them to dry overnight, and with the help of family, we bagged up our bounty and brought them home to be cleaned and dried once more. This consisted of spreading them out on a large tarp and hand-dusting the loose dirt from them before sorting them into clean bags for storage or sale.  Overall I think we ended up with right around 1,000 pounds. And for Rorick, the best part was getting to ride on the tractor with Grandpa for the final pass.

The way out here, a lot of what we do is like growing potatoes. We put in the work in the hope that our efforts will yield something, even though sometimes much of what goes into it occurs unseen. We do it anyway, though, because regardless of whether it pays off or not, life is about the journey, and despite our success, it’s the intangibles that leave the sweetest taste.

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