From Plough, potatoes!

Plough stands in the field, a stoical presence in our lives

This is not really supposed to be an animal-centric blog! So I really could have put up an image of a pile of pretty potatoes, or even a tall tower of tasty taties as we might call them in these parts. But to be honest, they’re not particularly photogenic, are they? And this tale really starts, and ends, with Plough, our neighbour’s beloved, ageing horse.

Our gardening tends towards the lazy. We start out with much enthusiasm in the spring, working with some diligence through the summer, until things seem to fall away a bit by August. So it’s a good thing that the strategy I’ve developed to grow our spuds actually chimes with this calendar. It begins with the renowned no-dig approach popularised by Charles Dowding. To be fair, that’s not the lazy part, since the preparation is all of the battle.

Essentially, the concept is that on your proposed garden plot you simply cover it with a thick layer of compost, and then cover that with a weed-preventing mat held down with numerous tent pegs. Errhmm, don’t dig! I then would use a pre-marked lathe that runs the width of the plot to mark where I intended to cut holes, but that’s where the laziness starts to creep in. I’m now re-using the mats from two seasons ago, and the holes are already cut! Meanwhile, the potatoes are being chitted in our conservatory until their little green sprouts emerge and start to look robust.

That’s when they get placed into the holes, through the thick compost layer to nestle on the harder ground. And where does the compost come from? Sometimes, maybe every three years, from our overloaded compost heap behind the polytunnel. But more often, the compost I use is shredded horse manure, and that comes out of Plough’s bottom. After that, well, the weather being what it is, I just watch and wait.

Harvest commences from oh, mid-July and carries on well into the new year. I brought in a bucketful of taties just last evening for our tea. You only have to scrabble a little in the surface layer of compost to grasp the tubers. No dig, right? Now that’s a kind of very special joy, I think. Every time I eat our lovely Maris Pipers, Harmonies, Charlottes, I thank Plough for his kindness. Well, no, I don’t, but the sentiment is there.

I did write a poem, a kind of love offering to Plough, that references his contribution. As I explained to our neighbour though, the poem has a kind of fulcrum point, where it stops being about Plough so much and turns into a reflection on my own mortality. So there you have it, poetic potatoes or what!


An artist’s sculpted head reminds me

that I love him, Plough.  
I’ve loved him from the start
since he arrived a decade hence
to graze — the hectare just for him,
along with our dear friends who brought
him with and cared for him
as he grew older, grew infirm.

There was the sweetest little cart
he pulled the happy couple in,
on their big day,  so very smart  
clip-clopping down the rural roads
and up beside  the village church.

And then there were our grands
astride his big broad back
grasping his coarsened mane
and,  nuzzling his soft nose
they offered him a carrot, two
their thoughts consumed with glee
after an amble round and through
the ancient pasture, our green sward 
where  elves once gambolled free.

I love him, frankly, for his poos
that feed the tatie patch
as much as I love feeding him
with memory-laden hay
when our dear neighbours hie
themselves away upon their
holidays, and  it is me instead
in charge of old man Plough’s 
most every needs, and I can 
talk with him, and stroke his cheek,
embracing shaking  wisdom from
his whisker-strewn old  head.

I love him just, just being there,
field furniture but,  more —
his constant grey-black presence,
the pasture’s stoic,  old and thread-bare
waiting, he’s just waiting.   Waiting.

And though I may be here
still, when he’s been long gone,
I know I’ll  love him, yes, I will.

And  pastel shades remind me that
scant future lies ahead.

Incidentally, the photograph of the sculpture that stimulated this poem can be found at’s December ’21 issue.

One response to “From Plough, potatoes!”

  1. I recognise the sense that by August your enthusiasm and attention to the garden begins to wane. Thinking about it, I reckon my enthusiasm is shaped like a bell curve. It starts slowly in late winter, when I really should be out there seeing off weeds before they take hold, like the books advise. Instead it’s more early spring before I get going with the trowel and hoe. Then by the time I do it’s all hands to the pumps and everything seems to be running away ahead of me with seeds waiting to be sown, seedlings pricked out and plants desperate to be planted out. By the time the end of July comes, I couldn’t care how tall the grass has grown, how much hairy bitter cress is between the rows of carrots. I don’t even look at the piles of trimmings still left at the bottom of the hedge after the cutting of it. In fact I try to make a virtue of it if anyone asks. “Well, I’m trying not to be over tidy”, I say. “Giving the wildlife some room”. By August, it’s all I can do to put the tools back in the shed, let alone deadhead the annuals or rake the lawn. If I could summon up the energy I’d put up a sign over the veg and flower beds saying ‘Wildflower meadow’ and leave it all alone until next spring.


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