Six years ago, in a column titled “Fed up with the squirrel show out my back window,” I told readers about the 24/7 squirrel orgy in my back yard.
“Every time I look out the window, squirrels are copulating on my picnic table. And on the fence. And in the trees. And in the bamboo. It’s like a really twisted show on cable.” What I didn’t share is that baby squirrels aren’t the only thing those critters are good at spawning. They also produce a bumper crop of potatoes.
Potatoes? Yes, potatoes. Over a decade ago, when my son was in preschool, we seeded a garden in our new-at-the-time raised beds. Using a tiny red shovel, my 4-year-old planted a bag of Yukon Gold potatoes. That was the one and only time a human on our property planted potatoes, yet spuds have been growing steadily ever since.
It turns out, squirrels are amazing farmers. I’ve never spotted one driving a tractor with a “My Job Depends on Ag” bumper sticker, but they definitely know a thing or two about agriculture. Squirrels have planted potatoes all over our back yard, including underneath our enclosed wooden deck. I often see them running across the yard with a potato in their mouth, like they do in fall with apples.
For the sake of science, I should describe what’s happened to the potatoes after all of these years of squirrel farming. If we leave the potatoes in the ground too long, by the time we dig them up they have a tough and scaly skin. This is due to potato scab, caused by the bacteira Streptomyces scabies.
Squirrels, you see, are passionate about organic farming, but fail to practice crop rotation. They never test for soil acidity either, which is a shame, because both of those things could solve the problem.
Thankfully, even with the scabs, the spuds are safe to eat. They are a rich golden color, full of flavor. The scabby peel makes them difficult to peel, but homegrown, homemade hash browns are worth the effort.
Some of my friends have asked me if we still buy potatoes, or if we let the squirrels supply all we need. The answer is, it depends on the time of the year.
In summer, when we can clearly see the green tops of the potato plants invading the rose garden, entering the shade bed as uninvited guests and sneaking next to the nurse log, it’s easy to dig the potatoes up and eat them for dinner.
But spring is tricky. Finding potatoes is like hunting for Easter eggs in your grandma’s back yard. She hid a lot of them, because she’s generous, but she doesn’t remember where she put them all, because she’s forgetful. Oh, and since they’re hardboiled, they’ll go bad unless you find them fast.
Now, when I look out the sliding-glass window and see the springtime squirrel show in my back yard, I sip my coffee and think about brunch.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.