the way out here

One potato, two potato, three potato, a thousand

By HUNTER HILL
Posted 6/9/21

On the subject of planting season, I have more to do than I can say. Since I’m about to spend a page of the paper talking about it, you can assume just how much I really have to do.

Farming …

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the way out here

One potato, two potato, three potato, a thousand

Posted

On the subject of planting season, I have more to do than I can say. Since I’m about to spend a page of the paper talking about it, you can assume just how much I really have to do.

Farming vegetables is certainly a game of “hurry up and wait” followed by a frantic get-it-done mentality. With late frosts safely behind us and summer’s heat threatening the opposite realm of complications to the season, this week, my wife and I scrambled to get caught up with the many different items on our to-do list, which involved getting crops in the ground.

With farmstand customers asking us when we would be opening for the season, I almost can’t help the wry chuckle that involuntarily escapes my lips with the knowledge that so many of the things we had planned on are now being rethought in plans B, C and, in some cases, D. Regardless, this week’s target item was to get potatoes in the ground. Could we have planted them sooner? Yes. Should we have planted them sooner? Also yes. Were we going to allow ourselves to get any further behind? No. And so, with the help of her father, my wife and I plowed the ground and disked in anticipation of the 200 pounds of seed potatoes we purchased.

In the heat of the day, we set up in our basement, where it was cool, and began to cut the potatoes: a necessary step in planting them. With four 50-pound bins full, we loaded them in the truck and made our way to the patch. With this being our first year doing a serious amount of potatoes, we decided to rely on her father and grandfather, who have been planting large patches for family use for many years now. Also fortunate for us was that my wife’s father, being the established farmer he is, had his tractor and implements closely available. Her grandfather had the potato picker that, for those of you who don’t know, saves exactly one metric boatload of work come harvest time. Since potatoes grow down in the soil and must be dug up once ready (after continuing to be buried or hilled throughout their growth), a machine to dig them up comes in handy when dealing with nearly a thousand plants. I thought it was tough last year with my little eight-foot garden box, trying to dig them up with a shovel and sift through the loose dirt. I can only say that if not for the use of family equipment, we would not be attempting potatoes at all.

As my wife and I rode along in the waterwheel transplanter we purchased last year, sowing our seed potatoes, we split the patch 50/50 between red Pontiacs and Kennebecs, both referred to us by her grandfather. Let me just say, there isn’t a successful farmer out there who hasn’t heeded a little advice from an experienced steward of agriculture. As I think about this as we troll along planting, I can’t help but appreciate that this advice and foreknowledge may, in fact, be worth more than the use of tools. The tools borrowed may save my back, but the knowledge will end up saving my family business and all the investments we have made up until now.

The way out here, we learn by doing, but we save an awful lot of learning time by collecting the knowledge of our predecessors. A strong-willed new farmer may commit to digging up all those potatoes by hand, but unless he learns what potatoes do well in this rocky, northern soil, how to hill them and what to feed them, all the effort in the world won’t optimize his crop. Even when timing when to sow, it never hurts to be a copycat when observing an old-timer who’s been at the game just a bit longer than you have. And here’s a free bit of advice from one young person to another: I never met an old-timer who wasn’t tickled pink to share what he knows.

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