As soon as the ground can be worked, goes the adage for planting certain early season crops. This past winter was as cold as any in recent years, though memories of frozen fingers faded long ago and have made way to our current humid and sticky circumstances. Winter storms, one after another, battered our oaks and coastlines late into the season and the school kids made up for snow days far into June. Summer has begun now and the air is thick like porridge while the plants continue to grow well before the days get hotter and the rains come with less frequency.
I planted potatoes this year, as soon as I could after the last frost, trying to be a little bit like Bob Daniels. He is one of the founders of the farmers’ market here on the Island and he has been digging potatoes for decades by hand while always having the earliest crop at market. I bought some strawberries from him one recent morning as his blue-fleshed new potatoes called to me with their still-dirty skin. We planted Yukon golds from Maine at Beetlebung, pushing our luck in a plot my grandfather used for blueberries not long ago, digging furrows by hand and hilling them with eel grass mixed with more loosened soil. They grew very slowly at first; their first six weeks showed us no signs of new growth and I was worried I had rushed them along, fearing they would rot. Slowly they pushed up new buds from their tiny eyes and what was a barren grid became overgrown with brilliant green growth.
It took some prodding in the soil by my father two weeks ago to initiate their harvest the following week. He passed along his orders with a photograph sent from his phone to mine of perfectly healthy and plump Yukon golds he had found as he walked through his father’s garden. He was on his way to visit his mother, who a few weeks back turned 99 and lives a stone’s throw from the potato patch. We celebrated her birthday on the picnic tables built for such occasions, and she had the extra cake and ice cream she deserved while holding court at the head of the table, taking the time to thank her great-grandchildren for coming to her birthday party.
Rena grew up in Limestone, Me., right on the Canadian border on a potato farm, one of 10 children. She traveled far and wide, getting away from farm life for as long as possible before ending up back on one by marrying a born farmer in my grandfather. She likes her potatoes simple, like all her food, boiled and salted with a pat of butter added over them soon after they are cooked. As peas are in a juicy and sweet state of perfection right now, their glory fades quickly so I have been eating them alongside boiled new potatoes as much as possible.
Farming is laborious work and is often done mechanically with noisy powerful implements. We have a few of our own on the farm, a small Kubota tractor our farm stand manager Hannah Leighton tenderly commands for bigger tasks and a brand new rototiller of great might that Megan Kershaw dances behind with ease as she preps new beds. The world is currently focused on the slender and fit male football players as they do battle in Brazil and I am reminded by their physiques of the wiry power needed to wield a hoe, hoist a bushel basket filled with little gem lettuce or pull potatoes from their beds. All the beds were emptied of potatoes by an enthusiastic group of all-female diggers on Tuesday, their inedible foliage carted to the compost pile by Hannah in the bucket of the tractor. Early mornings and long days in the sun had darkened slender and muscular shoulders covered partially by sun hats. Freckles decorated beaming smiles later in the day, as doing it by hand took a little more time, but worked up a healthy appetite.