Hope springs eternal: growing potatoes and onions

McZENA MUSE - Louise Swartzwalder

SUBURBAN McZENA — With the weather being a little more charitable to this farm girl, the natural inclination is to get outside a lot more.

I’m fortunate enough to have a grand piece of land, right on the boundary line between Ashland and Wayne counties.

I always am quick to tell people I didn’t do much of anything to get the land, other than to be born to John and Bea Swartzwalder.

My dad was a good farmer and businessman. My mother, the earnest teacher in the family.

I have two sisters, and we divided up our parents’ land several years ago. I got the “home place,” where I grew up.

Out back, towards the woods to the west, is my very special planting area.

Ever the optimist, I have always planted way more than I can consume.

Because I could get away from work at a decent hour, I one day would be a good day to take on weeds. And, plant eggplant and flowers.

To the work, I told myself.

I can get very involved in my outside work, because it is just the kind of exercise a person needs to be carried away from routine turmoils. Like the fact people don’t return phone calls, or say they want to see you at impossible hours.

I am, I think, a person who is in love with weeds. I view those rascals, which creep up overnight, as challenges.

I have a large area planted with potatoes (three varieties, including fingerlings) plus two varieties of onions — Walla Walla and red.

Then, I planted many heirloom tomato plants I started from seed. (Paul Robeson, sungold).

I also sowed carrots, beets, and a marvelous heirloom turnip named Gilfeather.

This Gilfeather turnip is something people should stand in line for, because it is so hefty and beautiful a family could dine on one for a week.

(This is a slight exaggeration).

I donned my work clothes, and marched to the west 40. (old wild west terminology for what became known as the “back 40”).

When I work outside I always wear a hat, because harsh sun can bleach out tender hair strands. My poor hat is one I’ve used for years, and the truth is it is held together by tape. I suppose I could put in the effort and sew the straw sections back together, but that seems like too much work.

I always take my big brown dog out with me, but the cardinal rule is that he must be out no longer than a half hour, because he gets a little bushed.

I carry my cell phone in my pocket, so I can get calls and check the time.

I was so occupied by my task, freeing potatoes and onions, I forgot to check the time until I had been at it for almost two hours.

One hazard of working with crops that haven’t been given daily attention is that it can be hard to free certain things.

Potatoes are pretty easy, because they have grown large enough that they are starting to blossom.

I did about half of a large plot of potatoes, then worked on onions.

Onion tops can almost be lost, if they are surrounded by weeds. They’re green; weeds are green.

I had worked at potatoes, and in my enthusiasm, managed to harvest my first potatoes. They were tiny red beauties.

I decided, potatoes for supper.

On to the onions.

That work is much slower, because you really need to be a little closer to the ground. So I gave my work clothes a work out, and knelt part of the time on the ground.

I began freeing Walla Wallas, a beautiful yellow, sweet onion.

I stopped for a moment to check my phone for the time. My allotted time had practically slipped away.

So I did a few more onions.

And of course, a liberated onion became mine. Another mistake for the day.

So it would be potatoes and onion for supper.

I cleaned up, and packed up, and went inside.

I was too bushed to immediately start and work with my provisions. So I sat for a bit to regain strength.

Then I melted butter, put in thinly sliced potatoes and onions, at a very low temperature.

I watched the news. (This, I confess, is my small addiction. I love to see how people, theoretically competitors, go at delivering the news).

True to my prediction, the news delivery and atmosphere was a bit wanting.

I marched back to the kitchen, to check my food.

The aromas were wonderful.

But I had burned them……….



Louise Swartzwalder