Potatoes and lambs

Years ago we kept a little flock of about six sheep. Late one night (it always happened at night) a ewe decided it was time to give birth to her lamb. We managed to lure her into the lean-to that served as a barn, so she was all comfy in the hay, but things did not progress. With only mild trepidation and maybe after a shot of something to drink–I don’t recall– I reached into that ewe and turned the breech lamb so it could get born, which it immediately and happily did.

one lamb

I tell you this possibly frightening farm story to prove that it was not because of inhibition on my part that, when I reached into the earth beneath the blooming potato plant, I found no potatoes.

Now if someone has invented a sort of reverse periscope for looking under potato plants please let me know– I am starting to have alarming doubts about the entire enterprise and also I begin to question whether potatoes are actually good to eat or if really rice and pasta are the way to go. (Note: I don’t eat lamb any more either but for different reasons.)

potato doubt

Let’s talk about garlic whose roots do not neurotically secret themselves or become invisible.

Here is the setting where I recently re-learned how to make garlic braids. (I had done it once before–sometime late in the Ming Dynasty.)

garlic struggle

Notice the tired limp stems on these unfortunate garlic plants which I chose for my mad repeated experimentation. Notice the paper with “instructions” or more accurately “inadequate instructions.” But, thanks to my phone and its endless data plan, I found a very poor Youtube demonstration and after only 22 viewings and 10 attempts I switched to a better video and then it was simple.

garlic braids

In other news, the variegated dogwood survived. It was bought last fall at one of the last-ditch all-plants-must-go nursery sales and impulsively installed in an east-facing bed by the house, ghostly amidst the green.

Varigated dogwood "Summer Fun"

Which clearly shows the virtue of having a few white-leaved plants among the green-leaved ones.

Next is some lowly lamium, a silvery groundcover in a very shady location.

lamium in the border

Wikipedia says that lamium is also called deadnettle, which would be a wonderful name for a character (Say, Ralphie, isn’t that your Aunt Agnes bleeding on the ground there among the potato plants? Better call Dr. Deadnettle.) but I will not refer to such a sparkly little plant by that name. Also there are mean rumors about lamium going out of control but I find it spreads just politely. I also read that only a yellow-flowered variety likes shade but the plant I have flowers pinkish and loves the shade, and also the leaves vary from almost all silver to silver spots in the middle of green even though I only bought this plant once.

lamium colors

There is no accounting for any of these things –which is typical of life as I know it.

On down the fence the lambs ear plants  (below) also brighten the border. I originally added it because the children loved the furry leaves, but now I would not be without it, dependable and pretty in my not so flowery garden. I like the blooms until they start toppling– then I cut them, usually along with the first faded roses.

lambsear in border

Then there is the oakleaf hydrangea, blooming white in the next photograph.

oakleaf hydrangea

This plant is rare in that it has no special name at all. None.

Okay I lost the name.

Let’s call it Mrs. Deadnettle.

Moving right along…

While some of the roses here are shall we say regrouping, the two little Fairy Roses (they were a gift and that is what I was told they are called) are just coming into bloom. But wait, I stopped writing and asked Google and he concurs that this Polyanthus rose is called “The Fairy” and dates from 1932. (See I can do research too.)

pink Fairy RosesThese plants start short, maybe 18 inches high, then shoot out sprays of blooms like little bouquets, from now until the first frosts. Really they are constantly in bloom. But even with twig scaffolding and lots of sun, they always lean precariously, so that is the challenge.

Fairy Roses in the borderI’ve almost thrown them overboard a few times, but they are so healthy, endlessly productive and delicate that I forgive their color and their gravity issues. (They can be grown from cuttings–mine were.)

In conclusion, there is fruit on the three-year-old peach trees, which are a variety called “Avalon Pride.” The peaches are just adorable and I am so pleased that it almost makes up for the potato stress.

peaches on the tree

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About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
This entry was posted in shade gardens, vegetable garden and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to Potatoes and lambs

  1. kininvie says:

    Linnie, I suspect you simply weren’t burrowing deep enough. My previous comments about tunnels and holes in the side of your bins were not entirely frivolous. Anyway, leave it for a couple of weeks and then try again, is my advice.

  2. linniew says:

    Thanks Kininvie. I can’t tell you how I appreciate your positive energy here. It gives me hope. –L

  3. To me Deadnettle sounds like an ingredient for a witches’ brew: “Yes, my dear, and we must stir in a ramkin of deadnettle.” The variegated dogwood definitely looks good in that spot.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Jason
      I love your brew and especially the measurement of ‘a ramekin’– awesome. Thanks about the dogwood. I hope it blooms someday.

      • My experience with shrub dogwoods is it can take a few years but there is a lot of variability. I have some grey dogwoods who did not bloom for years but after I had given up all hope they began blooming, eventually in some profusion.

        • linniew says:

          “After I had given up all hope” sounds bad. I will try to be strong like you. It’s just that I have this little limb saw in my greenhouse drawer… but no, I will be patient. (I am very impressionable and you set a good example.)

  4. Rachelle says:

    (Arriving to the sound of magic flutes or blaring trumpets, the Potato Queen makes her entrance…) Okay, I didn’t want to be a discouraging mud hen, but when I observed the conversation at first planting of those cut up pieces of potato, I thought, “Tsk, tsk, too small!” Potatoes need to use the stored energy in a chunk of potato to grow the leafy part so the leafy parts can send that sugar back to the roots to form those tuberous nodules we like called potatoes. So you were actually starting in the minus category, but I had hope because your leafy parts looked very nice. They don’t start setting those potatoes until they blossom, which I don’t think yours have, have they? Then they need lots and lots of water…really lots. I’m not sure it is possible to overwater a potato. Then the foliage will die. Don’t be sad We of Sand Land (also known as the Central Sands of WI) wait for the ground to dry and dig our potatoes. Waiting a week or two after the foliage is frizzled will toughen the skin and they will store better, versus “new” potatoes, of the type Kininvie is detailing to you how to side dig out beneath your erstwhile “potato hens”. The skin on new potatoes can be practically rubbed off while washing. But the taste of new potatoes is almost ambrosial…

    • linniew says:

      Oh Rachelle I detect a kind of potato schizophrenia: dig early, don’t dig early.
      And, sure I chopped, but criminy the leafy growth is like a jungle! Now in regard to blooms, only one is blooming yet and that’s the one I explored beneath. But it’s likely early don’t you think, certainly no frizzled foliage yet. I water them EVERY DAY. A lot. Maybe I have drowned them? ****! (Rhymes with truck.) Well I shall just persevere and watch and wait and dig again after time passes. Right oh my Potato Queen?

    • kininvie says:

      There, you see, what did I say about chopping up seed potatoes? And, honestly, Rachelle, did you mention your doubts at the time? Did you mention starting in the minus category? No you did not – I checked – . Poor Linnie – encouraged and deluded by hordes of traditional tattie slicers babbling on about their great grannie’s spud knife and how you never saw potatoes that size any more west of the old green island, begorrah and bejabbers…..

      If I weren’t so fundamentally nice, I would suspect a conspiracy.

      • Rachelle says:

        We do cut potatoes, but not too small! Conspiracy, bah! Next you’ll start in on Marilyn Monroe being murdered by Bobbie Kennedy and the Mob!

        • linniew says:

          Too small? Minus category? Conspiracy?! (And I SAW those Irish oaths you wrote Kininvie.) But my dears the fact is that the plants are tall and lush and are nicely ‘bulked up’ (I cannot express how much I hate that expression.) SO, there are absolutely no grounds for the argument that the cut pieces were inadequate to produce healthy huge plants which in turn (according to you Rachelle) should produce lots and lots of potatoes. It is logical. (Yes I did kind of adore Mr. Spock.)

          • kininvie says:

            Sorry to pour cold porridge on your logic, but a doom-laden take on the biology would be that the meagre reserves of starch that you have left your poor, mangled potatoes have all been directed into producing foliage in the desperate hope of producing enough energy to create one, or even two, offspring, which, unsliced, may do rather better next year….
            That said, I remain convinced that you will yet harvest a wondrous crop and put all your critics, including me, to shame.

            • linniew says:

              Well let us by all means do a doom-laden take. But there you go personifying a vegetable, with desperate hope and expectations for their children. How silly. But I am really excited about putting you to shame so I will look forward to that part.

              We may need a fall project after all.

        • kininvie says:

          I bet Marilyn never sliced a seed potato in her life. Nor would she have, even if Bobby had shown her his great grannie’s spud knife. Fine woman like that, how can you cite her as evidence?

  5. Katie says:

    Good morning Linnie,
    I’m very impressed by your garlic braids, and by the fact that you harvested enough garlic for four big fat ones. I’ve found just the thing for your potato troubles:
    http://thegreatbucketexperiment.org/peek-a-bucket-garden/
    I suspect your potatoes are responding to your lack of confidence.

    • kininvie says:

      Katie – what a brilliant idea! But since poor old Linnie is lumbered with her windowless trash cans (n.b. two words), maybe you could join the campaign to drill some large holes in the sides so that at least she can grope in a suitable place.

      P.S. Any misinterpretation of that last phrase is NOT my responsibility….

      • linniew says:

        Katie I must clarify that there are actually six garlic braids–I didn’t show them all. (Very pleased am I with my garlic braids.) I did check out the peek-a-bucket post too and I can see what drove you there with all Kininvie’s terrible ideas about drilling holes. But he’s not about windows, no, he’s about ACCESS, so a trap door would be more like it I’m afraid.

        Kininvie. Sweetheart. “Poor old?” Well I have no pretensions about wealth, but really. Correct me– I mean I’ve never BEEN to Scotland (I have read stories which had some very exciting plot developments set there) –but are there windows in all the dustbins? Because what you call a windowless trash can is rather like a wingless car or a videoless shoe.

        Grope? Good heavens.

        • kininvie says:

          If you wish to discover your fledgling potatoes, groping may be the least of it…
          Congrats on your garlic braids, BTW. I’m jealous. I tried garlic once….but I guess we don’t have what it takes in this part of the world. Still, I bet Alberto turns up to analyse your weaving skills.

          • linniew says:

            I seem to remember just last year enouraging you to garlic. You grow vegetables in raised beds right? Just plant it in one, right around the time when you plant a bunch more anemone blanda bulbs…

            Alberto will love my braiding. Maybe.

        • Katie says:

          Six garlic braids! I was so proud of my tiny little basket of garlic from my first attempt, now I’m left feeling a little flat. It was your comment about reverse periscopes that made me remember the buckets with windows, poor Kininvie had nothing to do with it, and I’m sure it was your lamb story that got him thinking in terms of that very unfortunate word.

          • linniew says:

            If you can grow one garlic you can grow six-braids-worth Katie! And don’t spend a lot of sympathy on Kininvie, he is one tough cooky and will blame HIS appalling comments on me in a heartbeat.

            I just knew citing that lambing story was a bad idea.

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  7. Alberto says:

    Well, I enjoyed a lot your post but I gave up reading those endless comments on how to grow and not to grow potatoes… Couldn’t they give you a call earlier for Fries’ sake? I’m not really going to give potatoes a chance in my garden, ever.
    But I’m so proud of those garlic braids, although those stems are so thick and incredibly long for a garlic so… compact? The braids should be pretty heavy, right?

    Your garden looks so good, I like that variegated dogwood just the place it is and that hydrangea is lovely. I’ve lost two h. quercifolia last winter because of waterlog, another small one has been offered as sacrifice to the Mower God and the forth is trying to flower but she’s always very thirsty and wretched-looking.

    PS: you didn’t put your arms inside a sheep, did you?! Well I don’t even want to know the answer actually. I just wish I won’t reborn a female sheep of your flock…

    • linniew says:

      Hi Alberto
      This may be the end for me and potatoes too. The international Potato Wars should be winding down soon though.

      I probably should have let the garlic dry longer before braiding. I have it in the greenhouse still. What I don’t need are moldy garlic stems. Anyway it was fun.

      Hydrangeas must have a hard time in your climate. And I am acquainted with the Mower God, there was a sacrifice here of a small boxwood once, so my two rows of box are still not the same length.

      I guess you made the right career choice in not becoming a mid-wife.

  8. Greggo says:

    I think….therefore I am….I think the little underground people are back.

  9. David says:

    Nice job braiding the garlic! I’ve tried this and found it quite difficult.

    Something I read about garlic roots … they have a contractile quality that actually pulls the bulb downward as it grows. Cool huh?

    • linniew says:

      Thanks David– but you are the Garlic King; I think of you every time I deal with garlic in the garden.

      Plants are so capable. It’s well we don’t leave the bulbs in the ground very long or we would never find them–kind of like my invisible potatoes maybe… Trillium bulbs do that downward dig too, and after a few years they are almost impossible to extract.

  10. You stuck your hand in a sheep and helped deliver a lamb? WOW! Impressive! I only grow sweet potatoes and have no other spud experience to offer. But I’d seen a video where a lady planted her potatoes by simply throwing entire potatoes on the ground and then covering them with hay and soil. Maybe you’re growing those tiny gourmet potatoes. 🙂

  11. b-a-g says:

    Linnie – Thankfully potatoes are not a necessity, most people I know are on no-carb diets. On the other hand cute little lambs and an endless supply of garlic are totally necessary and now I have even more respect for you.

    • linniew says:

      Those lambs were always so adorable. They were ‘wool’ sheep, so I could spin the fleeces, which were varied in color. The lambs had curls in their wool and loved to race and chase and jump up in the air.

      Thanks for the kind comment b-a-g!

  12. kininvie says:

    I’ve delivered the odd lamb in my time too. A highly satisfactory experience, if messy. But I prefer my bantams hatching their eggs on the whole. It’s a less fraught process. Sheep are very badly designed animals in a lot of ways…

    • linniew says:

      The lambs are the best part of the sheep experience. Well that and making yarn. But, remarkably, I agree completely with you here Kininvie. Sheep seem to have a prime directive to get sick and die–certainly chickens are totally independent compared to sheep.

  13. kininvie says:

    Yes, sheep have a death wish. I rather admire them for it. It’s a sort of fuck-you-Darwin attitude. Not many species are up for that.

    • linniew says:

      That was a really funny comment which I enjoyed a lot!

      Could be that the species who completely embraced the idea of evolving toward weakness are gone now, like sheep would be without veterinarians and tired shepherds.

  14. Alistair says:

    Linnie, I am impressed with your midwifery skills and your weaving of garlic. What really does it for me though is that beautiful variegated dogwood, ask Kininvie if he wants a cutting, on second thoughts, after reading his last comment he may well tell me to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

  15. I’ve always wanted to learn to braid garlic. It’s so cool looking. I’m going to check out that video sometime although I don’t have any garlic anyway so it’s kind of a moot point. I happen to love The Fairy Rose. I had it in my garden for awhile but it had blackspot so bad that I yanked it. What I’ve since learned is that one must be patient with roses and let them settle in. Eventually those little blackspots get annoyed and head for the hills leaving a nice, robust rose bush in their wake. Your little lamb is smiling. ADORABLE.

    Would you believe I’ve had your blog open on a Chrome tab literally all day, reading it between running to and fro? I’m so behind on blog reading. Take care.

    • linniew says:

      Well I braided the garlic too early Gracie! It has dried a lot and I rebraided it to tighten it all up and now it’s fine, but next time I wait. I actually love the Fairy rose too, as of this year. I get that problem with reading blogs right now. So many flowers and thirsty plants and bad weeds. And millions of cucumbers coming and I still haven’t researched making pickles!

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