Gold in them thar hills

‘Gold in them thar hills’
June 2015

I am aware by the perplexed expressions of drivers that pass by on the C40 that a solitary person standing in the middle of a very large 100-acre field wielding a fork and bucket is an eccentric sight in the modern farming context. (Look at that solitary scarecrow – how quaint. Holy cow, it’s bending over!) But this is what I am reduced to. You see – we have a potato problem.

Last year we grew an acre and a half of potatoes on our organic land – roughly two tonnes of seed. We planted the potatoes, we earthed them up a couple of times when they poked through the soil and then we trundled along the rows with a little 70s Massey tractor and our 1940s potato spinner and picked them all up. We harvested roughly 6 tonnes, a yield that would make any eastern counties potato farmer fall on the ground and roll around laughing but we were happy enough. We supplied the pub with potatoes until around February this year and that seemed a pretty good result.

When I say that we picked them all up – well, it wasn’t quite all. When you have to bend down to pick up every single potato you inevitably become quite picky about the size of tuber you deem worthy of putting in your bucket. And this mental selection process becomes more draconian with every backbreaking hour in the field. So quite a few little tubers got left behind. I thought a few pigs might like to run over the area after harvest and glean all the little potatolets left strewn across the field but the pigs had other ideas about raw potatoes being acceptable nutrition. They resolutely refused to eat them. I tried to mix them in with their barley, just as I once tried to get fussy toddlers to eat green vegetables by surreptitiously adding them to bolognaise. But these fussy pigs, in their own way, were just as wily as the toddlers had been. They looked at me as if I thought they were born yesterday and hid them when they thought I wasn’t looking. So we ploughed the field, sowed it to a mixture of kale, sunflower seed, triticale and other bird friendly treats and forgot all about it in the excitement of planning this year’s potato harvest. This year was going to be much better. We were going to learn from all last year’s mistakes.

So this year’s selected acre was situated a good half mile closer to the farm, on rather better land, dunged to within an inch of its life, and most importantly – bearing in mind the woeful lack of rain this spring and last – close to a tap. It looks very well as we drive lovingly past it, the stems thick and glossy, the foliage verdant. A few thistles this time but hey this is organic farming! It is about to come out into flower. We have been fondly counting the days until we can dig our first sizeable tubers. July perhaps, August…..

And then driving along the C40 a few days ago we noticed a mass of flowers against the side of the road. Potato flowers. In last year’s potato patch. Thousands of them. We took out a fork and dug up a few plants just to try. Klondike. Potato gold. Delicious new Bambino potatoes of superb flavour with skins that rub off when you touch them. But how are we to harvest this unexpected windfall? The plants are strewn higgledy piggledy across the field – there are no neat, soft, earthed up rows. The ground is too hard for the 1940s spinner. The cultivator just scrapes along the surface slashing away the foliage and hiding the bounty beneath. The puzzle is obsessing the farm. Long hours are spent discussing the problem. Everyone has a different theory as to how to get at them.

In the meantime it’s me and the fork.


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