One Potato, Two Potato…

I’m sure I have mentioned that the Old Library property is infested with vines. And roots. And roots of vines. I was complaining about this one day to a young neighbor of mine as she stopped to chat while walking one of the dogs she was dogsitting. I was pulling the roots up by handfuls, and she pointed out, “Yes, and if you follow them all the way back to the root, you’ll find something like a potato on the end.”

I thought I knew what she was talking about. When I’d pulled up vines at home, I’d often found a small tuber, yellowish white, about the size of a kernel of popped corn or a peanut shell. And yes, I’d found a few of those at the library as well.

Several days later, as I was raking under some sparkleberry, I spotted something the size of a large apple or onion that I at first took for a buried red rubber ball. Upon inspection, it proved to be the top of a large rhizome. I was afraid I would need a shovel to get it out, but I did eventually manage to winkle it out with my trowel. In my naïveté, I took it home—actually “them,” as it had had a partner—got out my black felt, and posed the roots (with a penny for scale) for a photo, which I then emailed to Clare with the hubristic subject line “Mother of all potatoes.”

Over a week later, Clare replied to my email with a photo of a cluster she had dug out of another neighbor’s yard.

By that time, however, I had already made a few finds of my own, as detailed in a previous post, to which I referred her. As I told her, her cluster was larger than either of the individual sites I’d cleared, but I thought my collection, in the aggregate, was larger.

From that time, the hunt was on. On May 28, I was working the area along the boundary fence. It’s no secret that vines like fences, and I made several good hauls. Here’s one:

This batch I dubbed the Ron Popeil Cluster (“But wait—there’s more!”) because after I had dug out what I thought was the entire nest and photographed them, I found several more hiding under my kneeling pad.

Having cleared the area between the driveway and the fence, I returned to work on the area beside Magnolia Avenue. This has progressed slowly, and I seem to cover the same ground repeatedly. When I started work on June 7, this is what I discovered when I raked under a sparkleberry tree:

Obviously, I could not ignore such a challenge! This proved to be the Energizer Bunny patch—it just kept going and going… Because of the tight space, I couldn’t use a shovel effectively, so I had to do most of the work with a trowel. I’d been concerned that I was pushing the trowel beyond its capacity, and in fact, the caption on the photo below could be “Don’t send a trowel to do a shovel’s job”:

The results were worth it, though:

When I returned to the site to continue work, I found one last straggler:

I don’t know how worthwhile these efforts are. In the time it took me to dig up these roots (almost an hour between first and second photos), I could probably have been more productive in raking and less radical weeding. But the results were very satisfying.

I continued to plug away, determined to finish this small area before moving on to Job 1 (read more about that in my next post). As I was raking under the same sparkleberry where I had found the “mother of all potatoes,” I spotted another “apple.” My first thought was doubt and disbelief. I was so sure I had dug that up!

When Clare sent me her trophy photo, she had commented that she would have loved to have been able to get it out in one piece, but it just wasn’t possible. I’ve had the same experience with all of my clusters—until this one, which I did manage to extract almost intact. Moreover, a bit of attached vegetation shows what sort of vine this is the root of!

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