Digging for Gold in the Garden

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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I love growing potatoes for many reasons. I marvel in cutting apart seed potatoes knowing each eye has the potential of producing several new potatoes. Tending to the plants as they grow into bushy vines is fun—I’ve even gotten used to the alien appearance of the larval form of Colorado potato beetles. Watching the berries form after the pretty flowers blossom is also satisfying because I know those contain seeds for future potatoes. But the best part of all has to be the Christmas morning feel of digging for gold.

I never know what kind of harvest I’m going to get until I’m finally digging after the vines have died off. I’ve definitely had less successful years—those generally come from using leftover potatoes rather than fresh seed potatoes. It also helps to have great weather. This year, with a very wet spring followed by a lot of heat and not much rain, seems to have delivered a bumper crop of potatoes.

I use the method of mulching with straw after the plants emerge and basically let Mother Nature do the rest. The top photo shows my partially worked Yukon Gold potato bed along with one of the potatoes emerging. There are many ways to dig potatoes. I use a small flat trowel. I make sure to dig at an angle below where the potatoes are growing and lift the soil up while watching for potatoes. I usually wait until the plants die off. I wait a couple of weeks and then dig the entire bed at once. I store my potatoes in our basement.

Sometimes I wear gloves, sometimes I use my bare hands—it depends on my mood and how much clean-up I want to get into afterward. Some folks may chose gloves so they don’t have to get too intimate with the critters they’ll undoubtedly run across. Even though most of my vines were dead by a couple of weeks, there was still a late season Colorado beetle larva on one lingering vine. There are always slugs hiding in the moisture of the straw. I actually laughed when I found this one slithering halfway up my leg!

I discovered a fascinating thing while digging this time. I usually wait until after a good soaking-rain to dig because it helps loosen the soil for easier work. Because we had gone three weeks with only a tenth of an inch of water, I decided not to wait longer to dig the Masquerade potatoes. While breaking out chunks of dried soil, I kept finding little caves with individual earthworms coiled up in moisture (see photo above). I’m convinced this is how they make it through times of drought. I poured a few buckets of water on my pile after that dig and luckily we had a couple of inches of rain later that week.

Last year while digging I came across a salamander and squealed with delight. A few years ago, I was surprised by three baby ringneck snakes and immediately paused my work to research what they were. One year while I was digging potatoes a stray kitten wandered out of our forsythia and climbed right up onto my lap. As you can see in the photo below, he’s still working with me in the garden.

I usually grow my favorite variety (Yukon Gold potatoes) and Gold Rush potatoes—which means that I’m literally digging for gold—but I often try a new type as well because I never know when I’ll find a new favorite. This year I decided to try Masquerade potatoes. If they taste as creamy as promised, I’m sure to be growing them again because they were definitely as prolific as the others. My artist’s eye also finds them colorfully intriguing.

Because our potato harvest was so abundant this year we can look forward to a lovely ThanksGaia come November with plenty of other delicious meals throughout the winter. We’ve already enjoyed one of our favorite pizzas this month—sourdough crust with roast tomato sauce topped with ground lamb and diced potatoes. Gardening can bring such pleasure during the growing season. Growing your own food can bring much healthy food to the dinner table year ‘round. Growing potatoes can add that fun element of surprise while digging for gold.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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