Talking to potatoes and other gardening tips
“Just look at that rich, dark soil,” I exclaimed the other day, while leaning on a hoe and gazing tenderly at a freshly dug furrow. “Think of how cozy you’ll be underneath such a soft blanket of earth.”
“I also hope you’ll appreciate the hours I toiled getting rid of so many rocks and roots,” I continued. “Not to mention the hundreds of pounds of compost and mulch I’ve added — all for you …”
My colloquy was one-sided, not surprising since I had been addressing 20 pounds of seed potatoes about to be planted in the garden. I decided to start the season off with a little pep talk.
I made a similar speech last fall when I put in about 200 garlic cloves, and they clearly took it to heart. A thick bed of green sprouts already has risen at least six inches tall, guaranteeing a bumper crop later this summer.
Soon, I’ll be giving my little chat to Swiss chard and spinach. Late next month, it’ll be time to egg on the eggplant, tomatoes and peppers.
Or I can simply buy one of those signs you see at garden centers that demand, “Grow, dammit!”
The potatoes may have seemed indifferent to my words of encouragement, but I feel that they in particular deserve succor because of the gruesomely violent method in which they are sowed.
As I spoke to them in soothing tones, I concealed a paring knife in my back pocket.
What you have to do is slice the potatoes into quarters, making sure each section has at least one eye. These then sprout tubers below the soil that by late summer grow into full-size potatoes.
As I prepared to hack the seed potatoes to pieces, I felt a little like the Walrus and the Carpenter in Lewis Carroll’s 1871 poem, in which the title characters stroll on a beach while luring naive, young oysters to their doom. The final three stanzas:
“It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick.
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”
“I weep for you," the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
“0 Oysters," said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?”
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.
Unlike the Walrus and the Carpenter, though, I may not eat every potato. If I can discipline myself, I’ll set some aside for planting next year.
The problem is that it’s hard to control your intake once you’ve tasted a freshly harvested potato. It’s like going your whole life listening to nothing but a cassette recording of the Harmonica Rascals' Greatest Hits and then attending a live performance of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony at Carnegie Hall — only better.
So, my tender young potato seeds, be fruitful and multiply. The knife? What knife? Oh, THIS knife… Don’t worry. It’ll hurt me more than it hurts you.
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You learn things in life, like the scent of your mother or the smell of braciole stewing in tomato sauce on a Sunday morning.