Yesterday I baled the hay in what my mother-in-law always referred to as “The Spud Patch”.
It’s a small field that lays in a bend of the river under an irrigation ditch. It represents only 1.5% of our hayland, and .01% of the ranch. It puts up enough hay to feed our cows for only one day in the winter. But in the early years it fed a very large family.
The spud patch has some pretty good dirt. And it can be irrigated from the ditch just above it. That tiny field could produce many hundreds of sacks of potatoes.
Those potatoes were an important food source for the family of William Elges, who homesteaded on the West Boulder River in 1896. He went on to raise 11 children there.
Everyone worked hard then. From daylight until dark they were busy plowing with horses and pitching hay by hand. The water was carried in buckets from the springhouse and heated on a stove fueled with wood that was felled and bucked with a two-man crosscut, hauled in with a team, and split with and axe. They burned a lot of carbs in those days!
During the Great Depression of the 1930s much of the West was in the grip of a drought. Times were tough. But this little spud patch had been prolific – kept green with water that had been diverted from the river.
In the early fall, Papa would have hitched up a horse to a moldboard plow to lift the potatoes out of the ground. The whole family would have been scratching through the ground with spud forks and gathering the potatoes into burlap “gunny sacks”. Those 100# bags would have been thrown up into a horse-drawn wagon for the mile and a half trip back to the home place.
As many of these potatoes as possible were stored in the root cellar and in the basement of the house. They were fried, mashed, boiled, and baked. Many would have been fed to pigs and thus converted to meat. And there were surely enough left over to sell in town or trade to neighbors.
That small field is insignificant in today’s operation. But it was a major source of ‘meat and potatoes’ to a generation now past.