The aubergines, tomatoes, Swiss chard and the rest of the leaf and fruiting plants are at their best right now. Their fruits are bright and glossy and I can imagine their wet sap pumping and heaving through their leaves and stalks. The majority of the garden is green and verdant and awash with life. But the potatoes? They’re dying.
Potatoes are the Obi Wan Kenobi’s of the garden – master teachers to this student of gardening. Their lesson? The unknown.
Way back in September I planted out a couple of handfuls of seed potatoes. And I waited. Mum sent me pictures of hers sprouting leaves but mine made me wait for another three weeks before delighting me with their tight, grooved leaf tips. During the time I fretted and worried – were they sprouting? Did they have enough water? Nutrients? Had they been eaten by critters? In this though, the potatoes were no different from my other veggies. Very quickly they rewarded my patience with one of the happy surprises of vegetable gardening: potato flowers. Potato flowers are beautiful. Their pink and yellow blooms are surprisingly delicate and blousy – how I image the frills on the shirt of a southern belle to be.
Come summer though and the potatoes have raised the bar on their lesson. Whilst the rest of the garden thrives, I’ve been watching the potatoes wilt, then develop yellow spots on the leaves, then begin to die back completely. Gardening columns even advised me to reduce all water to the potatoes so that every last bit of energy could be pumped into the vegetables. That’s great except the presence of these vegetables is unknown.
They lie enigmatically hidden beneath the soil. A Shrodinger’s vegetable: concurrently there and not there. Early in my growing career I googled potato harvest and came up with a clip of a man harvesting a potato box that yielded ONE potato. Last year the dry eath made for a terrible crop and I harvested less potatoes than I planted. This year the weather has been be kind but until I dig into the soil I must content myself with the notion of a fine harvest.
This morning the foliage was sufficiently died down and my patience sufficiently stretched that I decided to start harvesting. I held my breath and began to dig…