THE knell for the garden sass has a fruitful tone, but it is never heard by the gardener with unbounded joy. Cleaning up in the fall is considerable work, such as digging potatoes. Odd thing, I think, that all summer long, since the rime frost fell from the garden gate, the experts on house agronomy have expounded about everything else but have given us little good advice about potatoes. The potato is a lowly fruit, unworthy of the vivid writing reserved for the bouncing tomatoes, the lofty pole bean, the lovesome godwots, and the meandering cucumbers. Whole exegeses have been given to the friendly zucchini until it has become inspirational for everything from nutritional shoe polish to our morning manna. I hear there is a striped peppermint ice cream easily made from zucchinis with a blender. The potato remains largely unsung, although I did see one recipe that told how to make a cream -and-potato filling (with peppers, celery, and onions) for stuffed zucchinis. As I say, one has to dig potatoes.
The woolly old wheeze ran: ``I say, Zebediah, how'd your pertetters turn out?''
``Didn't. Had to dig ever' last one on 'em.''
Nobody in Maine has pulled that one in something like 173 years, except on summer folks, and meantime our commercial potato farmers own tractor-drawn harvesters that look, as much as anything, like the bandwagon in a circus parade. These rigs move along the rows at good speed with people standing on top to separate rocks and otherwise receive the potatoes that come rousting up on endless belts from the soil. But the little fellow with the home garden still uses the tined potato digger, built
like a hoe, and he knows that potatoes don't turn out. They has to be digged.
To my mind, a good many top-quality potatoes grown today aren't worth digging if compared with the varieties planted back before the extension experts began inventing new ones. Time was we had the limited choice of Green Mountains and Irish Cobblers, but the low yields per acre of these two, no matter how superior their quality, sent them out of style in favor of ``improvements.'' The marketplace tells us better a big crop than a good potato. Daresay most of the Mountains and Cobblers grown today are fo und in backyard gardens, making their diggers happy, and the only commercial plantings will be by seedsmen who sell to backyard gardeners. (Last spring the Agway garden stores had excellent Green Mountain seed grown on Prince Edward Island.)
One of my neighbors dug his potatoes this fall and came over right away to brag. ``Got 19 bushels!'' he exulted, and he handed me two handsome potatoes as samples of his good fortune. I think he called them Victory Pride, but I'm not sure. They were a little bigger than muskmelons, and red. Not the delicious old pink of the Early Rose potatoes, such as snap their skins and puff out, but a real red, as in brick. We baked his offering for supper and found the Victory Pride is wet like a green squash and h as the same general flavor as the sawdust baseballs used at the fair, three for a quarter, to knock down pins and win a prize.
On approximately the same space that yielded him 19 bushels, I dug six bushels of my Green Mountains. Six bushels will more than see us through, and I shan't have to buy at the store.
So the summer ran along pleasantly enough, and the sass performed. The tomatoes showed some reluctance in turning red, but we had a-plenty. We didn't have those hot July and August nights that prod the sweetcorn along, so the ears were still filling out in September, which is all right, too. It was a good onion year, and also fine for celery. But the main idea right now, at garden cleanup time, is to make a paean for the pleasant potato, which is now dug and stored.