There’s an old wives tale that the gardening season officially begins on Good Friday, that this day, set from the church calendar, is the day to plant potatoes. Tomorrow is absolutely booked up– and scheduled to be rainy– so I started a day early.
Potatoes are odd plants, and last year was the first time I tried them in my garden. I admit that the experiment was spurred by my reading of The Martianlast year. I dare you to read 200 plus pages about tubers in space and not come away with a respect for the plant. I have a few favorite potato recipes that you must check out, if you doubt my love (here and here).
Yesterday I cut old potatoes with one or two eyes per segment and let them sit. This morning, I dug trenches and put them a distance apart. You need the space because, like prairie dogs, potatoes burrow underground. One of the joys of potatoes is discovering them, finger deep, as you root around the base of the plant. My father told me you can “steal” potatoes as the season goes on– taking baby potatoes early in the season for the tenderest and sweetest and letting some mature to tide you through the fall. If you’ve never planted potatoes before, I highly recommend it.
I return to gardening every year for more than the harvest. Gardening is an education in itself. I can feel the accumulation of my successes and failures like tree rings, and it seems foolish not to keep experimenting year after year. Potatoes were my experiment last year, and this year it is seed starting. I bought one of the domed kits from the hardware store and started a few of my veggies from seed. I’m trying peppers, bush cucumbers, and basil this way, so we will see if anything comes from it. Any tips from you who have done this?
This year will be the first season that my son, aged four, can really participate in the gardening process. He helped me pick out the seeds from the seed store (TURNIPS, he exclaimed with glee, as if he actually ate them). My daughter, aged two, is at the reckless but fascinated stage. Both of them enjoyed our annual trip to the farm supply store to gaze at the chicks. God help me if that isn’t my experiment next year….
I have quite a few kitchen gadgets, but there’s something that I’ve always wanted and never had need to buy… until now:
I’ve always been a squeeze-bear honey chick until last weekend. We went to a fundraiser and bid on a quart (!) of honey from a local farm. As it happens, the apiarist sat at our table and we got to hear the story of how this honey came to be. This honey came from a swarm that he caught one afternoon, completely by chance. We’ve got a local honey connection now, and you bet I’m not going back to the bears. Needless to say, it’s pretty awkward to get honey out of a quart mason jar, so we invested in this beauty, perfectly labelled little container.
It makes me feel incredibly adult.
Living in Iowa means little joys like this, running into someone who taps Maple trees or keeps bees or chickens. Butchered hogs? I know a guy. Fresh sweet corn? Take all you can carry. Don’t even start on pumpkins. Acres of them. On days when I miss city life (concerts-book readings-movie theaters with more than one screen-trivia nights-Thai food), it’s nice to look at my honey pot. It’s pretty full as it is.
This little jar is extra sweet right now, because my son (almost four) just started getting into Winnie the Pooh. He tucks his body into mine, oversized book in hand, and wants to read all about the honey tree and Pooh getting stuck in Rabbit’s house. The days go so fast that sometimes it’s nice to have something to hold onto– a child’s hand, a spoonful of honey, a warm mug of tea or honey toast.
No recipe this time, just sending you sticky-fingered good wishes from rural America.
I have a wandering (and wondering?) (and wonderful) toddler. The above picture was taken on a recent outing to the park, where, luckily, he has little trouble to get into if he scurries a bit out of reach. More troubling is when he gets loose at the gym while I’m trying to wrangle his sister into the car seat, and he runs into the gym where some boys are trying to play a game of basketball. Or most frighteningly of all, when he took his little hand out of mine in the parking lot and started to run towards the car. We had a big talk after that one. The truth about all of these runnings is that he knows he’s not supposed to run too far ahead of us. He looks back at us and gives us a devilish smile as if to say, “Come and get me!” It makes it hard to get mad at the situation for too long.
In our back yard, his favorite game is to go to the only place I tell him to keep out of: my garden. Just like Peter Rabbit. Once he shimmies down the back stairs, he’s off and running to the edge of my garden, which wouldn’t matter except that I mulch the entire bed with grass clippings and he’s likely to roll around in it if not watched… His dad does the vacuuming and doesn’t appreciate these escapades. Soon, he’ll be old enough to help me dig and pick, but this summer is all about damage control. I can’t wait until he understands how his food comes from these plants.
One plant currently overgrown in our garden is the dill, which is so fragrant that if the wind blows you can catch a whiff from the other side of the lawn. Dill belongs in potato salad, in my opinion, and so we’ve been chowing down on this recipe all summer. Don’t leave out the relish! It makes it something special.
Amazing Dill and Relish Potato Salad
3 large yellow potatoes, cubed and peeled (though I didn’t peel this time)
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
2 heaping tablespoons sweet pickle relish, with liquid
1/2 cup Miracle Whip (mine was the low-fat, olive oil version)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh dill (or more, to taste)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon pepper
Salt (to taste)
Boil cubed potatoes until they are tender, about ten minutes. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. In a large bowl add celery, onion, eggs, and cooled potatoes.
In a separate bowl, mix dressing ingredients. Add dressing to base, and let potato salad chill for at least 2 hours. Salt to taste before serving.
I have to brag about something: I currently have amazing biceps . Shock and awe, sleeveless-shirt worthy biceps. I’ll even give my secret to these biceps away for free. Free! Today only! Special offer may be void in Alaska or Hawaii.