A strange potato

I came across this odd potato while digging the last row of the early crop of potatoes. The spud in question was mottled brown and yellow; its skin seemed rather tough.

I grubbed around with my hand and pulled up the prize. He regarded me with a grumpy red eye.

This eastern box turtle had dug himself down into the mulch that I hill up around potato plants. He was a good six inches down, where the soil is still somewhat moist and cool. All this happened several days ago. I replaced him, carefully covered him again with soil, and marked the spot so that I would not spear him with my garden fork. He’s still there: when I wiggle my fingers down I can touch his shell.

The technical name for this kind of summertime dormancy is estivation (aestivation in the Old World). The turtle is conserving water, saving energy, and waiting out this interminable heat. Which animal is smarter: the one snoozing in the shady soil or the one toiling to earn his potatoes with the sweat of his brow? I have my opinion on this; I’ll let you form your own.

The potato plant that he cuddled up to yielded the biggest load of spuds that I’ve even seen from a single plant (boastful evidence below). So, this fellow either brought good vibes with him or he has a taste for moisture that led him to the most productive spot in the garden. Both, perhaps.

13 thoughts on “A strange potato

  1. Anonymous

    So this past week I thought I was hunkered down working on the 3rd floor of Dupont Library, but it turns out I was actually practicing estivation?

  2. Martha S. George

    I have a lovely chocolate labrador retriever, a really good dog with a “soft” mouth. One day I was out in my Oklahoma City backyard with her and she ran up to me and deposited a box turtle at my feet! As if to say, “look what I found!” Our yard is very tightly fenced and even though I had seen box turtles in the neighborhood before(crossing the street!) it was a surprise. I used a guide book to determine it was a male (red eyes) and then spent a day mulling over my options as the turtle went back and forth across the rear fence….I took him to a nearby nature park and asked the park ranger if it was ok to leave him there. She said it was ok. I still wonder if I gave him a death sentence by relocating him to the nature center, it is very similar habitat but I know they have territories and don’t like to be moved. http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/wildlifemgmt/turtles.htm

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      You could rent your dog to some turtle researchers — they use dogs to sniff out their study subjects!

      Turtles do have territories, but they also disperse to new areas, so your guy may be OK.

  3. Anonymous

    Nice load of spuds! :> hmmmm……wondering whether the estivating turtle eliminates waste at all…. and thus perhaps fertilizes your potato patch???


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