By LYNNE IRONS
Holy potatoes. As you may recall, in the spring, I tossed my potatoes into my old chicken yard, covered each with a flake of hay, and walked away. I didn’t do one bit of maintenance except for a good dose of water every ten days or so. At the risk of sounding a bit smug . . . I can’t believe the results. I now have more than three bushels of spuds in the kitchen.
Since the area had never been planted and was very rich in organic matter, the Colorado potato beetle was practically nonexistent. The few I did see were tossed into my new chicken yard.
This piece of ground was originally poison ivy, bittersweet, and bull briar. The chickens lived there for about eight years. Now I have to haul out The Joy of Cooking for different ideas of potato preparation.
The other afternoon, I whiled away a couple of enjoyable hours on a stool surrounded by all those potatoes. I sorted out all that were smaller than Ping-Pong balls for next year’s seed. All the imperfect ones were picked out to be used first.
Then, I had both russets and a thin-skinned early variety to be separated. The russets will be great baked in the late winter. The thin-skinned ones can be cooked with their jackets still intact. I generally wash them rather roughly with a regular face cloth.
As I went about my task, I couldn’t help thinking about my ancestors in Ireland doing the sorting of potatoes every fall for generations. Then, my mind wandered even further back to the native Andean peoples having all those colorful varieties.
These past couple of weeks couldn’t have been more beautiful. Cool nights requiring an extra blanket, early morning mist, warm, lazy middays and spectacular sunsets. After the hustle of summer with all the extra people, it is such a welcome relief to be back to the fall schedule.
The Lespedeza at Polly Hill along the State Road is simply lovely hanging over the stone wall. It is particularly nice with the ornamental grasses. I believe the variety of grass is Heavy Metal. Lespedeza thunbergii is also known as bush clover. It is great in a mixed border, blooms on new growth, and does well in hot sun. Vineyard Gardens has some seedlings in six-packs for sale right now.
All the fall bloomers are coming into their own. There is Boltonia and goldenrod everywhere. Those fall asters, however lovely, look messy halfway up their stems. They need some autumn joy sedum in front of them to hide their unattractive legs. The asters only bloom for five minutes so enjoy them while you can.
I am crazy about the old-fashioned garden mums that are about to bloom. Sheffield Pink and Penelope Pease are my personal favorites. They attract hordes of honeybees. I am not particularly fond of the greenhouse mums seen everywhere next to pumpkins. I have, however, had good luck the following year with them when they are not in such a tight ball. They hardly, if ever, winter over.
Thirty years ago I bought seedling trees at the Felix Neck yearly sale. They were single, scrawny, six-inch-tall sticks. I now have a beautiful sugar maple (Acer saccharum) more than 25 feet tall.
My Dad still makes his own maple syrup. He boils it down in a hand-made 55-gallon drum over a barbecue pit. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. He’s funny, my dad. He puts taps in telephone poles to amuse and confuse passersby.
Sugar maple charcoal is used to make Jack Daniel’s whiskey. I am not planning that for a pastime.
I have noticed a good amount of apples in my daily travels. My own trees are producing more than ever and the fruit is actually worm-free for a change. Some say that lots of acorns and fruit are indicative of a long, hard winter. I am trying to avoid fear-mongering. We have politicians for that job.