Earthing up the spuds

Potatoes grow the tubers underground but they are shallow rooted and the new potatoes can be very near or even poking out above the surface. If that happens the new tuber turns green and is not good to eat. From the grower and consumer point of view it is important to keep those new and developing spuds in the dark.

The simple way of doing this is to drag earth from the gaps between the rows of plants and pile it up higher close by them. It’s a process called earthing up.

If you are a domestic gardener you probably earth up with something like a draw hoe. It may be a bit small for the job but with only a garden’s worth to do it just isn’t worth investing in a specialist tool.

However, if you are a market gardener, working on a field   scale then you need a proper tool for the job. These days, no doubt, you’d   have something tractor hauled. Back in the 19th century, potato   earthing would have been done by hand with a tool like this.

This long handled tool could be dragged between the rows   and its shape and angle moved earth to the edge, making sure those growing   tubers were well covered.


19th century potato earther

The length of the handle helped to make sure that the   metal blade did not dig deep into the ground and the slightly enlarged bob on   the end of the handle helped to make sure the earther didn’t slide from the user’s hands.

It was hard work. By the time this tool had been dragged   over an acre of land then the user would have walked some five miles or more,   all the time dragging earth.

No wonder frequent stops were needed and drinks taken.

After use the tool would have been carefully cleaned, the   blade would have been oiled and so, too would the handle, although the oil   used was linseed in that case.

You can see this late 19th century tool in the trades room at Market Lavington Museum.

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