Potatoes and optimism

Two years ago my dad decided he’d try a new way to grow potatoes. He built six-inch high sides on a three-foot by three-foot box, planted a few cut potatoes, covered them in dirt, then waited. When they started to sprout up he added another slat to make it twelve inches high. And then another and another until he ended up with a box three feet high.

He was so excited about these potatoes he could hardly stand it. I can imagine him distracted during the day, thinking about the harvest. Baked potatoes, potato soup, potato medallions cooked on the big green egg, bleu cheese potato salad. Through out the summer my sister and I would get regular updates–where he was on the slats, how many vines were poking through. Most conversations with him would start with, “How are the potatoes looking?”

When harvest finally came, he started at the bottom, removing slats and digging through the dirt. “What the hell?” he would have said, with the customary upturn of his voice on the double-“L”. No potatoes. He took off another slat. Nothing. And another. Nada. The harvest ended up being six potatoes, the largest not much bigger than a quarter.

Months later he was still shaking his head. “Every old farmer’s had this problem at some point,” he said. “All vines, no potatoes.”

This year he went back to planting them in a ground, and when Cora was there this summer, she was all set to help him harvest. On the way to the garden they came through the living room with a five-gallon bucket, because as Dad said, “we’re optimistic.”

And with good reason. They were just getting going when this picture was taken.


Not too shabby for an old farmer and his new helper. Not too bad for a guy burned on the last go-round.

Sometimes the old way is the best way. Sometimes you have to worry less about the harvest and just enjoy the story.

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