Garlic Time Again


It’s fall again and we’re planting garlic again. Work like a metronome ticks out my life. Repetitive tasks set the rhythm and mark the time, blurring everything in between. We’re closing the poultry coop at night – that means another day is over. I’m loading the trailer for market- it must be Saturday, a week has passed. Gheda’s paying our taxes – a fiscal quarter is done, three more months down. And now, Adam is planting garlic. We’re planting garlic yet again – this time a whole year’s gone by.  We’re right back where we started. Are we any smarter? Any wiser? I’d like to think so. But who can tell?

It was Autumn a year ago, during garlic planting, that we decided to make a go of the farm. That’s when we decided to take it from a hobby garden to a business. The intervening year has been productive; we incorporated a business, got insurance, grew a lot of food, sold a lot of food, made a busload of new friends, earned some money, paid some bills, preached the good news of local, sustainable agriculture and went more or less sleep deprived for months. I hesitate to draw any conclusions about the year. Did we do any good? Did we waste a lot of time and energy? I avoid questions like that. All I know is that we’re setting up for another year, wholeheartedly believing we can do better than we’ve done up to now. There’s redemption to be found in looking forward.


But this post is about garlic:

We plant all our garlic in the fall, finishing up at least a week before Halloween, for an early summer harvest. Fall planted garlic has a bit of time to develop before the hard cold shuts it down. Then, when things warm in the spring it’s ready and able to emerge early and grow large. Ideally, the garlic we plant now will be out before the 4th of July, allowing us to use the beds for a quick second crop before fall rolls around again.

For seed garlic, we use the largest bulbs from our previous harvest and sometimes (this year for instance) supplement with cloves from a trusted local source. Any garlic can be seed garlic. Just break the bulbs into cloves, plant them – root side down- on an 8×8 inch grid, cover them with a few inches of mulch and you’re good to go. The caveat being that not all garlic is created equal. Big garlic cloves grow big garlic bulbs and big bulbs are universally better. That being said, the general practice is for growers to either sell or eat their small to mid-sized bulbs, saving the big ones for next years seed.  This means the garlic one buys at market or in the grocery is likely small and somewhat impotent compared to bulbs grown or saved for seed. So I recommend either finding a local source or going on-line and ordering seed garlic of suitable size.

As for the rest, I’m looking forward to next year. I really do think we can build on the success we made this year. But I need to better manage the metronomic pace. I can’t be so myopic and reductionist that I see the farm as nothing more than a spinning wheel of undone, necessary tasks. I need to remember why we started this. I need to remember how important local, sustainable food is. And I need to remember to savor the work that happens between ticking things off the list. There’s great joy to be had in the in-between, but only if one bothers to notice.


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