|On my weekly whiteboard of madness, today’s big task (and tomorrow’s too) is garlic planting.
Garlic planting holds a special place for me each season. It pins me down to a very specific time of year, similar to how a birthday or holiday does. In my mind I imagine a stack of photographs, one snap shot of the garlic planting each season, all layered on top of one another, with a pin sticking down through the center holding them all together. While certain parts of the images are different – who is planting, what the laughter sounds like, which field we are in, whether we are wearing coats or not – there is a theme tied to place and land that is the same no matter which year is pulled out from the stack. The bones of garlic planting are always the same. The leaves are changing and are starting to fall making the surrounding landscape colorful and telling of cold to come; the air is crisp in the morning; the sun is low and filtered in the sky; the land smells of plants breaking down and decaying; our thumbs and index fingers are sore from breaking the seed apart; and the conversation with the crew is easy, knowing, and is tinged with the bittersweet of a group that has become close over the course of a season, yet knows they are soon to be broken apart by winter.
Garlic seed is a clove of garlic; the plants reproduce vegetatively not sexually. After harvesting the season’s crop in mid-July, we sort the garlic bulbs and save the largest, best garlic bulbs as seed. Then we break apart the bulbs into thousands and thousands of cloves. We used to do this all in one big push. I have fond memories of Zea’s birthday parties when she was really little including the parents drinking beer and helping break seed while little people toddled around with messy cake hands, or having a bunch of friends over and bribing them with nachos and football to break seed in our living room – the hell with all the dirt.
As our farm has grown, we no longer break all the seed at once. Instead, we break a couple of beds worth in the field, then plant, then break some more. Breaking seed is hard on the hands, but easy and fun otherwise. We pull up lawn chairs in the field and all sit around together, shooting the shit and breaking seed.
Once we get enough for a couple of beds, Mike or I drives the Hydro tractor with the transplanter down the bed, marking three rows with softened, wet holes at six inches apart. Then as a crew, we move down the beds together, on hands and knees or in crab squats, planting the cloves. The cloves get planted root side down and shoved down as far as our fingers can push them into the wet soil. Planting them deeply prevents the winter’s freeze/thaw cycle from heaving the seeds out of the ground.
With a couple of beds done, our index fingers and thumbs maybe ready for more breaking action, we sit back in our chairs and break more seed. We repeat until about 25,000 cloves have been planted.
As the saying goes, to plant a garden is to have hope for tomorrow. As a farmer, to plant garlic is to make my hope and commitment for the next growing season real. Today we’ll plant what won’t be harvested until next July.
I’m going to make sure to hope on a few of those cloves as they go into our rich dirt – for a good growing season, an effective vaccine, a climate of lessening division, powerful ears choosing to listen to the voices of the marginalized, to hug and see others’ smiles once again, and… and… and… so many hopes for the future.
May you be well,