Tales. Last Day of Potato Harvest. Bridgewater, Maine. Circa 2015.
Harvest Break had ended and school kids were back in
school a week before on a
Tuesday. It was a
good thing we decided to work late
into this dark Tuesday night in
finish digging the last of our crop of All-Blue potatoes. The wet October soil had
taken on a black
color virtually the same shade as that of the moist All-Blue potatoes. Surprisingly, it was the
distinctive oblong All-Blue
tuber shape which most helped rapidly-sorting-hands distinguish
under the swaying halogen lights of the Finnish Juko potato harvester.
promised in the forecast for Thursday, our relatively substantial
acreage of Butte
Russet – the last organic seed potato variety in the ground - was all
of a full
day’s work to harvest. Based
on the 30ºF
forecast low for Wednesday morning, we
geared up to start early that next morning.
However, the reality of a crisp 24ºF morning
freeze ended that
hope. The night of
cold forced frost an
inch-and-a-half into the potato hills.
We knew from prior experience we need not need
to worry of frost damage
at this temperature because Butte has proved itself as the most rugged
and shrugs off the cold that would melt down other potatoes.
used the delayed start to finish repairing 4’
x 4’ x4’ wooden potato pallet boxes.
near perfect growing year brought all the potato farmers in Aroostook
big yields and challenged everyone’s capacity.
Older pallet boxes, which had been idled for
years began receiving new
attention, screws, boards and strapping.
Our full scale box-repairing enterprise began
with the harvest interruption
caused by 3” of snowfall the previous Saturday
The result of our efforts was
boxes which groaned and creaked under
their two-thousand pound loads but did not
By 9:30 in the
morning, the frozen ground had thawed enough to dig.
We began chugging along digging the main
Butte seed lot with the Juko. Son
ran a second crew on the far side of the field using a tractor pulling
1950’s John Deere 30 potato digger.
Caleb’s hand crew – including 12-year-old Amy
who ditched school in
order to help us - first cleaned up an early-generation foundation seed
which will provide most of the Butte seed we’ll need for planting next
he had put those
potatoes away into
continued digging with the digger on
his side of the field chipping away at the remaining twenty-four rows
had left to dig.
a beautiful sunny Maine Fall day in the low 40s with only a light wind. Only the absence of red
and orange leaves -
which had blown off the trees following the snowfall - gave away the
reality we were well into the second half of October.
True to form, by the end of this potato
harvest all the bugs had been worked out and the equipment hummed along
flawlessly, this despite pretty heavy wet ground.
Compared to the
near black All-Blues, the Butte boiled up out of the hills clean and
with their Russet-skin almost as brightly colored as tennis balls. The tubers were
good-sized, the yield was
strong and we filled box after box.
5:00 in the evening it was apparent that there were few enough rows
the Juko would be able to finish digging the last of the Butte. Caleb shifted to loading
full pallet boxes on
the truck. By dark
all but two of the
repaired pallet boxes had been filled.
half hour later every full box had been sent to safe storage in the
The rain started
that night as predicted. It
would be the
next afternoon before we could get back on the field to begin
and carrots. But
that’s another story.