As hard as it is to wave goodbye to summer, I find myself once again greeting fall with a hearty hello.
There’s something about that time between air conditioning and heat; the lower electric bill coupled with crisp nights brings on some good sleeping. The darker mornings and earlier sunsets force us to be the light as we get out of bed to savor the three month transition to winter.
For some, fall’s glory is celebrated in corn mazes and caterpillars, raking more and mowing less; for others, it’s the ginger beer and sweatshirts, football games and pumpkin spice lattes. Still others embrace the fall by stirring hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick, while riding atop a wagon of hay.
When I welcome fall, I reminisce the harvest, especially the autumn harvest of 2012.
For years, the entire back yard was converted to several large summer gardens and, come autumn, a few fall gardens as well. The entire process from turning over the land in the spring to yielding the harvest throughout the fall and into the winter brought hours of joy and pounds of produce to record in my garden ledger.
The first year I planted sweet potatoes, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I opted to start small until I knew they would be a success, so I planted just a few slips. From what I had read, I expected about six to eight sweet potatoes from each plant. Of course I had no idea what if anything was going on underground all spring and summer. Neither did I know when the potatoes were ready for digging.
In October of 2012, my friend Kathy Joy was visiting for the weekend. We had a full schedule between a trip to our favorite Delaware beach, a guest pass for a Combat class at the gym, an event at the homestead where I volunteered as a docent, and a dinner and music night with my parents who were coming in from out of town. Knowing that Kathy’s late husband Roger was a farmer after retiring from the police force, and a farmer before they married, I felt that I needed Kathy by my side as I dug through the earth.
We had to fit this into our schedule somehow. Besides, how long could it take to dig up a few potatoes? We’d dig and then cook dinner.
If there were no sweet potatoes, Kathy would be there to console me. If there were six to eight per plant, we could celebrate together, eating sweet potatoes for supper and sending some home. I read that a pitch fork—rather than a shovel—is needed to avoid breaking or bruising the tubes. That was one garden tool lacking in my shed.
Breaking the earth gently with a shovel, I then dug nervously with gloved hands, not wanting to hurt what little produce might be underground. Every other scoop I turned to Kathy for the go-ahead to dig deeper. And then there was a tint of orange!
One potato, two potato, three potato, more! With each potato, came a squeal, and the count continued. Kathy! There are more over here. And over here! And over here! Even when we thought we were done, we found more, far from where the few slips were planted.
Seventy-one potato, seventy-two potato, seventy-three potato, more!
As the sun began to set and the cool of a fall breeze blew our hair, a train of sweet potatoes tracked the benches of a 22 foot square deck. From big-as-our-faces-enormous, to medium, to small-as-a-fist, we were overwhelmed with potatoes. A few were bruised by the excitement of the digging and the harvest, but not enough to have to toss them. Even after we finished digging, I wondered if there were more out there that we missed.
With several large buckets full of sweet potatoes, and a search for more containers, we had enough root vegetables to last a number of households the winter. We laughed and counted, counted and laughed, well past the dinner hour. We’d have potatoes for a bedtime snack.
Spring and summer, hidden from view, potatoes were growing like crazy. From a little, came a lot. The element of surprise, the beauty of the root vegetables, and sharing the moment with a friend who celebrated with me made the harvest of 2012 the sweetest ever.
I didn’t grow sweet potatoes again after that, wanting this memory to be the one I cherished and celebrated when waving goodbye to summers and greeting falls with a hearty hello.
– Nance Ceyters