Search for spuds

Finding potatoes in the weeds requires first locating the row.

Charles Darwin called it natural selection and Herbert Spencer — inspired by Darwin’s works — called it survival of the fittest.

Either term certainly applies to our vegetable garden this year.

It’s not how we planned it. We defined mainly as my wife, Sherry, who is the master gardener that understands things like rotations, hardiness zones and proper planting. She acquires the knowledge and the seeds. I just provide the manual labor.

The late spring delayed the garden preparation and planting. Then weeds and wetness dominated, substantially reducing our harvest. We battled the weeds for a while, but other tasks took priority. It wasn’t exactly a lost season, but sports analysts would say it was definitely a rebuilding year.

Perhaps it was an omen this spring when I finally had a few hours on Memorial Day to work up the soil, even though rain was forecast. That was nothing new. It rained every day for a while.

I took the rototiller out of the shed, gassed it up and pulled the starter cord.

The good news: The tiller started.

The bad news: The cord broke off, so this was a one-shot deal.

The good news: I could finally work up the soil.

The bad news: It started to rain — heavily.

Even with our lighter soil, the mud started sticking on my boots. Wiping the water from my eyes, I slogged through. The rain let up and later in the day we even managed to get some seeds planted.

Some crops fared OK — we had plenty of beans. The cucumber, corn, cabbage and broccoli all failed. Some were victims of bugs or rabbits; others never sprouted. The tomatoes rotted when I didn’t stake them up — although I don’t know what’s wrong with plants that don’t take advantage of large lambs quarters to grow on.

Last week we did our final harvest with the exception of some flowers and herbs. We harvested a few pumpkins, winter squash, beets and potatoes.

That doesn’t include two or three miniature carrots.

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The potato challenge was mainly locating the rows, but we knew the general vicinity. After a few digs, I finally found them. A few plants in and I immediately was thankful we were not dependent upon potatoes for our main source of food.

Under optimal growing conditions, you can harvest about 50 pounds of potatoes for every 2 pounds of seed planted — or five to 10 potatoes per plant.

Under weedy conditions and plants that had to battle potato beetles, we got about 25 pounds of potatoes for our 2 pounds of seed. There were five to 10 per plant — if you count the marble-sized ones.

Potatoes are best dug with a fork since shovels tend to slice too many in half. But even with a digging fork, you end up with a few potato shish kabobs. We made sure to set those aside for immediate eating.

The half-full wheelbarrow said it all. Our garden produce was the perfect picture of paucity; a season of perspiration portrayed by a poor production of a few pecks of pumpkins and potatoes. This puny panorama was pitiful.

But we gained a fresh perspective when we enjoyed a dinner of potatoes, beets and a caprese salad with basil and our entire year’s tomato harvest — there were a few cherry tomatoes that we were able to salvage.

Gardening is farming. You take the good with the bad. It’s never perfect.

Soon the growing season will be over.

Winter will come and help bury bad garden memories under the snow.

Seed catalogues will arrive, with pages and pages of glossy images of garden perfection.

Then hope springs eternal.

Garden dreams will start again.

I’m not so sure about the rototiller.

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