Way back in the stone ages of my youth, there were a handful of things I absolutely despised doing, plantin’ and diggin’ taters were two of ’em.
Ya see, we always had a garden. Now I’m not talkin’ about some little rinky dink patch of ground with a few things planted in it. I’m talkin’ about a huge garden, with no less than four rows of any particular vegetable. These rows were LONG and on a hill to boot.
Where I lived, there’s very little actual flat ground, there’s slope everywhere. Some drastic, some barely there, but everywhere is either uphill or downhill to some extent. Our garden was somewhere between not so bad and oh my god.
The “upper garden” is where we planted our taters, corn, and some beans. Ever so often we would plant other things there too, but it was mainly the aforementioned veggies.
Now, if you’ve never had a vegetable garden, well, you just don’t know what you’re missin’ out on, especially when worked the old fashioned way. By that I mean, everything but the actual plowing was done by hand, and we don’t call it plowing a garden, we call it tilling.
I didn’t mind tillin’ the garden too awful bad until the muffler rusted off the tiller and my uncle screwed a piece of straight pipe in. Why I don’t know, because it really served no purpose, other than to blow really hot air and gas fumes back in my face. In 80 and 90 degree sunny days with a stray baby cloud passin’ by overhead, but nowhere near the sun mind you, made for some long, hot, headache makin’ days.
When it came time to start plantin’, we would always start in the lower garden, where we planted our ‘maters, lettuce, cabbage and such, which wasn’t so bad. The only really difficult thing we planted down there was onions. I was always the one that planted them and I wasn’t allowed to just drop ’em. Nope, I had to “set” ’em out and they had to be a certain distance apart, not too close, not too far apart.
Keep in mind that the rows in the lower garden were at least 40 yards long at the bottom, gettin’ gradually longer the further up the hill we went, and we always had no less than four rows of onions. These onions had to be set out on my hands and knees and I could only set out 6 or 8 within reach before I would have to move. Add that up folks, that’s at least 160 yards on my hands and knees, putting little onions in the ground.
Let’s make our way to the upper garden now. We had to till the ground deeper on the bottom of the upper garden, because that’s where we planted the taters. The average length of a row in the upper garden was at least 50 yards long. Now the fun part.
To lay off the rows for taters we used a horse-drawn plow with a spade bit attached to it.
The only problem with that? We didn’t have a horse. When I got big enough, well, you guessed it, I was the horse. Literally.
My uncle had a rope tied to the plow that I could put around my waist and I would pull that plow all the way across the garden, not once, but twice for each row. For the taters we usually had 6 rows. I learned what the terms “Gee” and “Haw” meant. That’s horse speak for left, “Gee”, and right. “Haw”, and of course, “Woah”. If I was pullin’ to far to the left, my uncle would holler out “Gee!!” and I would know to move back to the right some.
You might be askin’ yourself why we used a horse plow to start with. Well, taters ya see, have to be planted quite a bit deeper than anything else and it was really hard to just use the “push plow” to lay off the rows, so my uncle came up with the bright idea to use the horse plow and me to pull it because it would go deeper in the ground.
By the time we had all six rows laid off, I was plum tuckered out. My uncle, tryin’ to be funny, would offer me some dried grass. Ha ha.
After about 15 minutes of rest and a drink or two of water, it was time to drop the taters. If you’ve never planted taters, let me explain a bit on the procedure. The “seed” taters had to be cut into halves or thirds, dependin’ on their size. My mom and aunt would usually start cuttin’ ’em up when my uncle and I would start layin’ off the rows, and by the time we were done, they had enough cut up so that we could start droppin’ ’em in the ground.
Seein’ as how we didn’t have all the seed taters up there with us, yours truly had to hump up and down the hill with two 5 gallon buckets. Downhill wasn’t bad, uphill, after a few trips was another story entirely. They had to be dropped a certain distance apart, which was roughly 2 feet apart and in the very center of the row with two or three pieces of seed tater.
Once the taters were in the ground, they had to be covered. When I say covered, I actually mean they had to be mounded up, and it had to be just the right size mound too. I’m tellin’ y’all, that was a lot of moundin’ to do. All of this had to be done in one day, so we would start at the ungodly hour of 6 am usually and not finish till dusk or later.
OK, we got ’em planted and they’re all grown up now. It’s late summer, early fall and it’s time to dig ’em up. I didn’t do the diggin’ part, I got the wonderful job of pickin’ ’em up and puttin’ ’em in the same 5-gallon buckets we used to plant ’em.
Guess who had the job of trudgin’ up and down the hill to put ’em in the dairy? Yup. Me. Do you have any idea how heavy and unwieldy a 5-gallon bucket filled to overflowing in each hand is, going down hill? Some of the hill is steep too. More’n once my ass went scootin’ down the hill and then havin’ to pick the dern things up again , only this time, I had to hunt for most of ’em cause they rolled into the weeds or tall grass.
Of course, when I finally made it back up to the taters, my uncle, who had been diggin’ the whole time I was gone, smugly asked why it had taken me so long, knowin’ the whole time what I was doin’. Given the fact that he had been diggin’ while I was gone meant he was about a half row ahead of me and I never caught up. He would usually take pity on me after a while and stop diggin’ until I caught up. If I was too far behind, he would help me pick ’em up, but that just made the time shorter between trips.
This is where our garden was located. It’s all overgrown now. This view doesn’t show the elevation from the road to the top of the garden.
After a couple of days, and many trips up and down, we were finally done and I was one worn out hillbilly.
Even though I bitched and moaned the whole time, them fried taters, fresh canned green beans, and other suppers made with food grown with blood, sweat and tears, tasted mighty good when the snow was flyin’ on them long winter days.