My little brother Steve, who lives at Hotspot in Letcher County, was lamenting on Facebook last Sunday that it was getting too late to plant the 50 pounds of seed potatoes he’d purchased the day before.
He was also worried that 50 pounds might not be enough to do him and our brother, Keeter, through the winter and was speculating that maybe they’d go back and get another 50-pound sack.
I believe the first sack was Kennebec and that maybe the second was going to be red Pontiacs, not that anybody can tell much difference once they’re cooked or fried.
Now to put this into proper perspective, let me assure you that I am intimately familiar with the big four-acre bottom on Blair Branch where Steve and Keeter do their major gardening and know it to be as rich as soil gets in eastern Kentucky. It will grow a bumper crop of anything planted in it.
I also know that 50 pounds of seed potatoes will produce at least 20 bushels of eating potatoes even in “bad year” and over 30 bushels in a good growing year. The total yield is mostly dependent on the amount of rainfall. Too much or too little can be bad. Proper fertilization also helps boost the crop.
But I am still left to wonder what on earth my brothers do with that many ‘taters because, between them, they only have five mouths to feed. I reckon they give most of their surplus to in-laws and anyone else who looks like they need ‘taters because there is no way they could devour that many themselves, even if they had ‘taters three meals a day and five times on Sunday.
From the time I was old enough to use a hoe until I went away to college, I spent the better part of warm weather helping raise field corn for our livestock and green beans for marketing along with sundry other vegetables such as melons, cushaws and pumpkins that we grew around the perimeter of the corn/bean crop we raised in that bottom. I do not recall ever enjoying a minute of that labor, but it had to be done to get our family through the winter and to supplement Dad’s meager coal miner wages.
Miners, in those days , were paid a mere pittance compared to the wages they commanded after the mid 1970s and most of them simply could not survive unless they raised a substantial amount of the food their families consumed. We raised huge gardens along with hogs, chickens and milk cows because we absolutely had to or face starvation.
I was in college before I discovered that I actually enjoyed gardening and began helping numerous, mostly elderly, folks in Prestonsburg and Pikeville plant and tend little kitchen gardens in their backyards.
For whatever reasons, the work that I had dreaded with passion while growing up suddenly became my favorite pastime when I no longer absolutely had to perform it. Go figure that out.
Thanks to my next door neighbor, Billy Hale, I have nearly a quarter acre of garden tilled up like a huge lettuce bed while knowing full well that I am not physically able to tend anywhere near that amount of space. Mr. Parkinson is even more reluctant to do garden work now than I was as a child.
Still, I have started several varieties of tomatoes, bell peppers and onions from seed because I like to grow varieties that are not normally available at greenhouses or at the retailers who sell bedding plants.
I expect I will be sending the larger portion of the baby plants to my brothers and that this may well be the last year I grow my own plants except for the Giant Syrian and Molly Helton Sunburst tomatoes that I’ve never seen anywhere else.
Loretta and I discovered that Patty Jennings at Jennings’ Best Home and Garden Supply store there on Highway 21 just less than a mile west of Berea had nearly all the heirloom plants we grow from seed at prices far less than I can buy the seed. Not only that, but she has an Amish supplier in Crab Orchard so the plants are, indeed, locally grown. However, at the retail prices she is getting for the healthiest plants I’ve seen all season I can’t see how Patty or her supplier can possibly be turning a profit.
Usually, when I stop at Jennings’ looking for a file or whatever other single item I need when I get there I wind up buying an armload of other stuff I suddenly find myself unable to live without. It is that kind of place. If you are ever passing through Berea, Patty Jennings’s big store is less than a mile west of I-75 off exit 76. Her store may well be the best kept secret in central Kentucky.