Saturday, October 12, 2013

For the Love of Dirt

Pointing South
Time to Dig Again
Water Like Diamonds
Digging Up Gold
Another Digger at Heart
Squash Robber
Harvested Dirt Holes
Curing Potatoes
Over-Wintering Carrot Tape
Crying like coyotes in the distance, I hear geese yipping in flight high above Elmira Pond. The flock flies in formation, pointing south. I watch momentarily before returning to my dirt.

The air is cool, not yet cold, but lacking any warmth, like a cabin without a blazing fire in the hearth. Gone are the sunbeams that once drove me to shower beneath the garden hose. The cloud cover is high, holding back both the rain and the sun. It's time to harvest the fingerling potatoes.

For the love of dirt, I plowed ten seed tubers into potato hills back in early June. I cannot deny that digging in dirt is my favorite act of gardening. What a joy to see seeds sprout, plants grow and harvest fruit. But it is the silky richness of soil that draws me into this relationship with the land. And now I get to dig into those hills of dirt to see what treasure is hidden in the dark clods.

Even after the recent rainfall, the garden is not muddy. Water pools like tiny diamonds on the leaves of Brussels Sprouts. Each day the plants deepen into purple. The leaves are yet robust , but I'm not certain that the plants will fruit. This was a winter crop trial that may or may not succeed.

Estimating the depth of the first potato hill, I gently press the shovel blade deep into the dirt. Lifting to the left, then the right, I upend the mound of dirt as the potato plant topples. A mass of dirty roots reveal globes of creamy potatoes. Gold! My dirt yields a fortune in potatoes.

Each mound is like an open gift on Christmas morning. The soil is soft and cool as I run my hands through the dirt seeking potatoes. This dirt is why I garden--for the luxurious feeling of hands buried in soil, like the pampering of a spa-treatment. I feel beneath the cluster of roots for tubers and pluck the globes yet hidden.

The dogs are with me, scratching around the edges of what is left of my garden. They can't harm anything, although I had to holler at Grendel when he lifted his leg over my crown of perfect kale. He found the remains of the crook-necked squash plant not yet uprooted for the compost pile. He thrusts his head into the limp mass of leaves and eats the softened fruit of the squash ruined by frost.

Bobo is more like me--a dirt digger. She discovers the hole left in the ground from where I pulled out the dead pumpkin vines. In no time she is digging a bigger hole, snout in the dirt as deep as paws. She's got it right--the dirt smells divine and I lean forward to sniff its earthy essence.

Ten hills of plants equals at least 40 pound of potatoes. While not muddy, the soil is yet damp and clings to the harvest. Before I can wash the tender tubers, they must cure for at least two weeks. Using my largest nylon cooler, I gather up all the potatoes and take them to the entrance of my cellar. Since I rarely go into the dank depths, this entryway is large enough for me to cure potatoes in cool, humid dark.

Returning to my freshly dug holes, I easily spade a row in preparation for winter carrots. This time, I've purchased "tape" seeds from Territorial Seeds of Oregon. The idea is to over winter the seeds for early spring germination. The tape allows for uniformity for such tiny seeds. The deep spading will allow the roots to grow straight and deep. I also plant a cluster of chive seeds and a pea patch. Spring will determine success or failure of my over-wintering efforts.

But for now, it's just a good excuse to dig in the dirt.

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