By Mack Samples|
The poet, T.S. Elliot, remarked that “April is the cruelest month of all.” That is not always the case here in the hills. April can sometimes be very delightful, depending on the year. But the 2011 April was indeed pretty cruel for those of us who were trying to get a garden started. We never got more than a two day break without rain, and a cold and bitter wind blew just about every day.
I usually try to get my potatoes in the ground sometime between the tenth and eighteenth of April. Potato planting is usually one of the more enjoyable days that we experience at our house. It is my custom to try to get the ground ready the day before the actual planting. On planting day, Thelma and I like to load the potatoes, fertilizer, and needed equipment into the old Chevy S-10 and haul it all to the patch. Thelma also likes to take along a portable lawn chair. It is her job to cut the seed potatoes up while I furrow off the rows and mix a little fertilizer into the soil.
We are generally joined by the eastern bluebirds who like to sit on the fence posts surrounding the garden and watch the proceedings. They don’t do any work. They just like to watch. Our two cats, Sasebo and Tiger, also like to come along. Like the bluebirds, they make no contribution. They just like to lie in the fresh plowed ground and observe the scene. As a general rule, I leisurely drop each potato piece into the furrows about six inches apart, cover them with the hoe, then spread fertilizer generously over each row. At the same time, I enjoy the beauty of the dogwood and redbud that surrounds the garden area.
But we did not get to experience any of that joy this year. During the prime potato planting window there were just no days dry enough (or warm enough) to get the job done. After several days of fretting, we finally got a window where the ground was almost dry enough on April 21st. We had just dodged a heavy rain that had drenched everyone a little north of us.
So we loaded everything into the old S-10 in weather that was too cold and headed to ground that was nearly too wet. Thelma hunkered down in her lawn chair in the cold wind to cut the potatoes into pieces while I furrowed off the rows. I looked around and noticed that she was gone. Soon I saw her making the return trip with a hooded sweatshirt. There were no bluebirds to brighten our morning and the cats returned to the house. Since we were afraid that it might start raining at any moment, we started the job at 7:00 a.m. and were finished by 9:00 a.m. There was no communing with nature.
As I was putting everything away and feeling a little cheated about not getting to enjoy my potato planting, I remembered to count my blessings. I thought about the utter devastation suffered by the Japanese this spring, and I remembered how tornadoes had brought death and destruction to many parts of the American south. I was just thankful our lives were in tact and that, even though it was not much fun, I had put fifty pounds of potatoes in the ground for the thirty-seventh time.