I smiled with satisfaction at the rain’s soft pattering on skylight. Right on schedule. How sweet of Mother Nature to water in the thousand cloves of garlic I had just spent most of the morning sowing, one pointy clove at a time.
We always plant lots of garlic, it’s so easy to grow it’s almost ridiculous, and we use it all up every year so why not? This year though, we have increased our garlic patch by about 50%. Planting against an uncertain future increases my sense of control.
Our 2020 crop was so good that we had plenty of really stellar heads to choose our seed from. Plus lots to supply all our four households, and to share. Organic local garlic goes for five bucks a head around here, making last years’ crop worth a cool $3,140. My seed garlic would have cost me $750, if I’d had to pay for it. Not bad. In fact, with its minimal effort and cost inputs, garlic is by far our most lucrative crop.
Growing garlic is one of the few farm activities all our residents play roles in, which is nice too. Even Dear Husband, a tinkerer not a farmer who prefers to spend his hobby time on taking apart and putting together vehicles, or computers, or various other items with moving parts, does his bit. I know he likes to be a part of the garlic effort.
He tinkers with the tractor, gets the rototiller attached, his pocketful of shear bolts ready (those critically important sacrificial bits of steel that snap instead of the rototiller tines when he unearths rocks), his fluids topped up and lube points lubed. Resident Gardener and I (with opinions from avid non-gardener DH 😉) finalize the spot. Where to plant the garlic this year is always a topic of much serious discussion and pondering for several weeks prior to plowing day. To avoid disease, garlic needs to be planted on fresh ground on a minimum three year rotation. There needs to be not too much, and not too little, moisture; we save our limited irrigating for the veggie gardens. We need enough sun too. Luckily we have the space for options. Our muddy valley bottom is also blessed with a couple-foot thick layer of dark loam above clay, above bedrock ten feet down. Drainage can be an issue, but fertility is great.
This year we settled on the north east field. It’s the first time this corner of the place has been used for anything but grazing in more than 20 years, if ever. It pleases me that we are bringing a fallow area of our little hobby farm into active production; we didn’t even get the equines on it this year. RG cut the long grass, marked four corners with bamboo stakes topped with (recycled) pink plastic strips, and then DH climbed on the tractor, where he spent the next few hours coaxing his rototiller through virgin pasture, keeping a sharp lookout for rocks. His rototiller (and about seven shear bolts) discovered less than a wheelbarrow load of potato-sized beauties in the whole 1500 foot square patch.
A few days later, It was RG’s turn to climb on the tractor so she could bring many loader scoops of well rotted chicken/horse/donkey manure compost blend over. She spread the compost and raked the patch into four rectangular raised beds at least a foot deep, with nice wide paths between.
And yesterday, with all the hard work done, it was my turn to majestically stride out there, give the beds a quick surface rake to level them, and plant my garlic. It’s great sometimes, being the matriarch.
I prised open all 150 tight heads, separating each clove, a task that had my fingernails aching by the end. Anyone who has hand peeled garlic for dinner can imagine what I’m talking about here. After years of planting garlic, I have learned to do this job all at once at the start, sitting comfortably rather than bent over in planting position.
I count the cloves I plant for record keeping, and I always have trouble with this deceptively simple task. Planting garlic is a contemplative activity for me, as explained in previous posts, therefore I often lose track of my numbers and have to start over. So for a change this year, I counted each clove as it went into my yellow planting bucket rather than as it went into the ground. It was easier to keep track of them going into the bucket for sure. Then I was free to let my mind wander, and by the time the bucket was empty, another 300 cloves had been planted. Problem solved.
Our last task before winter will be to bury the garlic beds in their thick leaf blankets, but we must work with the trees’ schedule on that one. Not many leaves have even turned colour yet, much less fallen. It’s been a slow fall so far in 2020. How apropos.