Just call me Mrs. Potato Bag

Janice Wells jwellsoeo@hotmail.com
Published on October 12, 2013

I’ll tell you right off; one thing I am very thankful for this year is Newfoundland farmers.

It is Tuesday Oct. 8, and I’ve just come in from harvesting the last of my potatoes. Oct. 8 was the preordained day because I once asked my mother how she used to celebrate her birthday when she was a little girl and she replied that on Oct. 8 they were always digging potatoes.

Maybe they did other things, too. Maybe she had a small cake or a penny candy or a new pair of home-knit mitts for the coming winter, but what stuck in my child’s mind was that Oct. 8 is the day you’re supposed to dig potatoes and as I said last week, I am nothing if not a creature of nostalgia.

After the bumper crop I planted this year, I am indeed nostalgic. I am reminded this time of my father who observed the second year he helped me plant potatoes in my very first garden, “You plant 10 pounds and harvest five.”

Of course he was exaggerating the meagreness of the previous year’s crop, but I do recall giving up planting potatoes after that second year.

Until this year. Somewhere in my travels, I’m pretty sure at Lester’s, I came across an item called a potato bag. I’d often seen advertisements and planting instructions in magazines about how you could grow a nice few feeds of potatoes in a barrel, even if you only had a balcony for a garden, and now here was this nice sturdy bag, collapsible and much easier to store than a barrel. I just knew I could squeeze it in somewhere.

Memories of extraordinarily delicious encounters with fresh-dug potatoes danced in my mind with romantic thoughts of how appreciative Newman (legendary for his love of potatoes) would be of such a gesture of my devotion, and a bag of seed potatoes and some soil joined the potato bag in my cart.

In a tiny bed next to my shed, I had moved a rose over a couple of feet to make room to plant a Virginia creeper to climb over the shed. This bed has less than eight square feet of soil surface and already contained the rose and Pope John Paul II clematis. But nostalgia dictates to me that a shed’s appearance is greatly enhanced by a Virginia creeper clambering over it, and John Paul ll is on borrowed time anyway.

With the rose hugging one side of the bed and leaning outward, John Paul hugging the fence and climbing towards heaven, and the creeper close to the shed and attaching itself, there was, barely, a spot in the middle big enough for the potato bag. I put it there, sacrificing, I might add, the opportunity to have something else more decorative that I have no room for elsewhere.

How impressed was the light of my life?

Perhaps his remark that you could buy perfectly good potatoes all over St. John’s and along the side of the road will tell you who is the sensitive one in this relationship. And he didn’t even know about my previous potato results.

Anyway, I followed all the directions about the planting and hilling up and in due time I had lots of tall healthy growth that flowered and made visions of potatoes and butter dance in my head. It all looked so good that someone I know was quite envious of how much better my potato bag looked than his potato patch.

Yesterday, I needed comfort food and decided that digging up just a few little darlings for supper wouldn’t ruin the Oct. 8 tradition. I didn’t tell Newman where they were from until he admitted they were exceptionally tasty potatoes, so I had some mild satisfaction but it’s all irrelevant — because next year the bag will be used elsewhere for something else.

“Few” is the operative word about my potato harvest. If there’s a big garden in the sky, my father is up there shaking his head and laughing.

And I am thankful for the unknown farmer who made sure I have enough potatoes for dinner tomorrow.


Janice Wells lives in St. John’s. Her latest book, “Newfoundland and Labrador Book of Musts,” was published in October 2010 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. You can reach her at janicew@nf.sympatico.ca. Note to readers: please do not send thumbnail-size photographs, as they are too small to publish.