I dug up the last of the potatoes a couple of days ago.
These are the ones I actually stuck a shovel through; the rest I'll wash only just before eating. It was beautiful out—in the sixties right into dusk, with that warm, low, autumnal sunshine striking through the trees.
Once I’d cleared the chipped-wood mulch from the alley bed, this is what it looked like:
That pale limp item trailing across the dirt is the only stem that remained, and the only one to have any significant tubers remaining underneath, if "significant" can be applied to this handful:
Other than these, this bed contained only a few small, scattered potatoes that I’d missed on earlier passes.
When the hail killed some of the plants, I stuck some aging seed potatoes in those spots, just to see what would happen. It was so late in the season—near the end of July—that these were withered specimens with foot-long roots that already sported tiny potato-lets.
They never sent up leaves, but when I dug down, I found little clusters of tiny, tiny potatoes. The seed potatoes were long gone.
Now, a word about the size of my potatoes. A number of our African friends whom I’ve mentioned from time to time are agricultural specialists from Mali, who came several years ago to study at Montana State University, which is just down the street from us here in Bozeman. Abdoulaye, a potato specialist, helped me harvest my potatoes one fall, and couldn’t stop laughing as I insisted we search through the dirt for the tiniest little tuber. “Such small potatoes!” he'd mutter, and laugh again, till I threatened to throw them all at his head, at which point he cracked up completely, claiming that they were too tiny to do any damage.
We were his host family that fall and remained good friends after he got his own place (when we weren't chucking things at each other); every now and then for the next two years, just to get my goat, he’d look at me, shake his head, and say, “Such small potatoes . . .” I don’t think he knows the English expression “small potatoes,” and I had no wish to give him further ammunition, preferring to glower and threaten to make him sleep in the garage. “No, you sleep in the garage!” he’d retort, and go off into peals of laughter.
Well, he’d have a field day if he were here this year.
The beds next door, where the fence protected them from the worst of last summer’s hail storm, yielded more than did the bed on the alley, but we're not exactly rolling in potatoes. A couple of weeks ago I gave away a good number to the guys who’ve put up with my constant coming and going in their back yard, and I'd dug a bunch for us, of course, so there weren't many left–just enough to break the basket.
There are a few potatoes of a reasonably respectable size,
a few nice boilers,
and a few that my mother would claim are perfect, since according to her, French chefs insist that they be no larger than walnuts. (Abdoulalye was too polite to say so, but I think he was offended by the idea of digging potatoes before they’d reached their maximum size; it was an indulgence only the rich could afford, and he was working here to gain the knowledge to help feed the hungry back home.)
But wait, I’m not done yet—there are, finally, these, the teensy, weensie ones, some smaller than a pea.
If Abdoulaye were here, we’d have to call an ambulance, because he’d bust a gut laughing, and I'd waste the rest of this small potato harvest, throwing them at his head. Can you tell I miss him?