We have been in our muddy valley now for more than twenty years, and last week, as I do each July, I pulled my garlic.
I hung it to dry in the carport and in a couple weeks I will sort it, clean it, save the best 100 bulbs for seed, and share the rest, about 450 bulbs, among my immediate family’s three households. We usually collectively run out just before I pull the next year’s crop. My family never buys garlic.
I gift bulbs to friends, and extended family, and usually donate a few to whichever young gardeners are starting their own garlic patches that year. Sometimes I tie it on to Christmas gifts; garlic bows. Everybody I know loves garlic.
In October, I plant my garlic, always in a different spot than last year. Garlic likes a fresh bed each year as much as I like fresh bed sheets each week.
Garlic is easy to grow, the hardest part for me always is getting the timing right. In remembering to plant in October, not a typical garden planting time to my way of thinking. Sometimes Halloween sneaks right by and I find myself planting in November, but my garlic never seems to mind.
I mulch with plenty of leaves, manure and a sprinkling of wood ash, fence against bug-hunting chicken claws and clumsy horse, donkey and deer hooves (no one eats it, they just dig it up or step on it), then leave it alone to work its natural magic.
By December, spindly new shoots are poking bravely through the leaf litter, pale green and spiky, and before I know it we are well into the new year and my garlic is a couple feet tall.
In late spring, when the scapes (flower buds) appear, I nip them off as quick as I can. This encourages big bulbs. Fresh scapes are delicious in any dish that likes garlic and as I fill my big basket, I savour the smell and taste of the spicy hot juice dripping freely from the cut stems, raining on my hands and boot tops. Spring tonic. Some years I pulverize and freeze scapes in big flat patties, then break off frozen green chunks all year long to add to sauces and rub on roasts. Other years I chop them and freeze in big bags, so I can throw handfuls into whatever I am cooking. I always have too many scapes, so the chickens get some too.
Garlic is the one crop I plant every single year without fail. It’s a perennial ritual, and, because I am me, as I plant, my mind goes for a wander. I reflect. On all the good and all the bad. All the stuff I saw coming a mile away and all the stuff I did not. And I wonder what scenes will play out this year by the time I pull my garlic, nine or ten months hence? Every year brings a few surprises, that’s for sure. Some good, and some not so much. But I’ve been lucky, more good than bad comes our way most years.
“To every thing (turn turn turn) there is a season (turn turn turn), and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
Remember that old tune? My tall university student uncle left his Byrds tape behind after a summery leather-sandalled visit to our house on Darwin Avenue, in ‘69 or so. I listened to it lots as a preteen, playing it on my ‘portable’ cassette deck the size of a Kleenex box, before casting it aside for Led Zeppelin and the Stones.
It comes to mind each year, as I hopefully, thoughtfully, plant my garlic.