It’s a sad day when the last potato from summer harvest is cooked and eaten. Today was that day. I knew it was coming; the last few times I reached into the one remaining paper grocery sack I felt growing potato eyes and slightly shriveled skins. Nothing was rotting though.
Growing my own potatoes has been challenging at best until this last year when success was finally met. Every year I have tried some new fangled crazy idea like growing them in stacks of tires and theoretically harvesting “the biggest potato crop ever!”. Nothing was ever successful for me.
My friend Pat told me once, “Potatoes are real easy to grow but there’s a lot of little things that can go wrong.”
I experienced all of those little things that could go wrong without ever knowing what exactly they were. Oh, I would harvest a couple handfuls of small spuds and they would go into a single dish – every bite savored. But never any extra to set aside for the upcoming months let alone into the winter for stews and roasts or to be fried with onions and garlic. No.
This year was different. My long time friend and employer, Marideth, is an avid gardener. Now I have to digress a bit here – she is a gardening engineer and I am the do’er in the garden. Together we made quite a team. She would figure out how much space was needed and where to put the ancient swing set for growing pole beans and build raised beds. She even followed up on an idea she saw in a magazine planting baby plants in hay bales. This turned an old concrete shuffle board court into a great paved and weed free area that grew a lot of food. She even invented and built a raised platform with a 50 gallon water containment contraption and timer controlled irrigation system to said straw bales. It worked. Real well.
I would come along behind her and realign the beds, plant peas where she wanted beans and demand more space for basil, eggplants and soy beans (which I never did get this year). I would fuss about how much space a six pack of cabbage was going to take up and would we eat it all because it would be harvested as the weather was heating up and how much cabbage can you eat in a week or so anyway!? We weren’t planting enough to make sauerkraut.
I planted seeds, baby plants, slips and starts. I nursed the sweet potato slips months past when I thought they should go in the ground. There was no room at the inn for them. All the beds were chock full by the time the ground was hot enough for sweet potatoes. I did get them in kind of late and we did have something wrong with the soil balance and the harvest wasn’t as large as it should have been, but by gosh we are eating sweet potatoes this winter!
Marideth acquired 3 kinds of potato starts, Yukon Gold, Irish Cobbler and Pontiac, a red potato. I kept them dry and dark. I cut them up so each piece had an eye and dusted them with organic bone meal and let them harden off a few days. Then I worked the bed and planted them oh so precisely in the very warm earth. Just a week later and after a good rain weird little green nubs poked their way through the ground. Eureka! They appeared to be all coming up. I carefully followed the sage advice of Pat and Marideth about hilling them up and pushing stray mulch up against the sides to keep the lower plant parts dark preventing the new forming spuds from turning green in the light.
They grew; one, two, three feet tall and I kept after the mulch best I could. Every day I would carefully inspect the tops for tiny blue or white flowers. Well, they did flower then the vines started dying down and it was time to harvest. There were scads of potatoes, some as large as softballs! Lots of medium size and a fair share of smallish ones.
We harvested just over fifty pounds of potatoes from the ten pound investment and countless hours of labor. But you know what? It is worthwhile. Organic potatoes, fresh from the ground and firm as potatoes get. Tasty.
So today I pulled the last brown paper bag from the pantry and dumped the couple pounds of tators into the sink, pulled the leggy eyes from them, washed them up and threw away the soft ones. The skins were starting to shrivel but the flesh was still at least as firm as any potato that comes from the store, anytime. I simply boiled them peel and all and we ate them all up with generous amounts of butter, salt and pepper.
I’ve been on a casual boycott of non-organic potatoes especially ones grown in Idaho since reading Michael Pollan’s book, The Botany Of Desire, which describes the amounts and levels of toxicity of chemicals used in the Idaho potato fields. Workers are not allowed in the fields for several days after one of the many toxins are sprayed on the plants to prevent loss of plant life. At what cost to human life?
So I will labor for many hours in my little garden and I will take what harvest there is and I will enjoy the work and the food knowing it is the best I can possibly put on my table. The last of this summers potatoes were oh so delicious tonight! It looks like there will be a new garden spot this spring – nuther long story for another time – so stay tuned for more tales from the yard!