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!
Plough 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 VisualVerse.org’s December ’21 issue.