The Garlic Circle: Veggie Share Week #5 – 7/7/21
The Garlic Circle
Today we will begin the garlic harvest. This is one of those crops that pins me down to time and memory in beautiful ways.
I’m not sure where to start in the circle of time. So I’ll start with today. Today we will begin to harvest the garlic. We will do this by first mowing the tops down so they are only about a foot high. Then we will use a tractor implement called an under cutter that will drag underneath the soil to uproot and loosen the bulbs.
As a big team, we will then harvest the garlic. We’ll pull out the garlic plant by the stalk and shake off the excess dirt from the roots. We’ll fill up crate after crate after crate with these bulbs. We’ll load them on a truck and take them to our greenhouse, where we will then unload them onto greenhouse tables upright and let the heat and sun cure the bulbs.
It’s hot, dirty work. So hot and dirty in fact, that I always use it as a hypothetical in interviews to get to know a potential employee – both to paint a picture of what they are getting into, and to gauge whether they are introverted or extroverted. “So imagine it’s about 85 degrees, sunny, and humid. It’s Friday. You are tired. You are about to spend the whole afternoon pulling garlic, a hot and tedious job. Tell me who you’d like to be working across from?”
If I close my eyes, I can flash through the last few seasons’ garlic harvest, remembering individuals who were part of it. Snippets of conversation. I remember the year we took photos of our filthy arms, contrasted against our clean stomachs. I can see a photograph in a family album (I can’t personally remember it anymore) of our daughter, 10 months old at the time, sitting up, gumming and grabbing garlic stems that I handed her under a makeshift shade in the field. I can remember running into the house, stinking of garlic to nurse a baby (which one? who can remember?) when the babysitter radioed me she was hungry. I can close my eyes and smell the mixture of heat, humidity, dirt, and the pungency of garlic that will soon be in the greenhouse.
Fast forward a few months and we will be breaking the bulbs we’ve saved for seed. When the farm and the girls were smaller, I can remember doing this at our eldest child’s birthday parties – giving adults something to do with their hands as they watched young children out of the corner of their eyes and tried to strike up conversation with other parents. I can remember the year we did it as a party and watched the Packers play as we broke seed – took weeks to get all the dirt out of the living room. This year we will break seed with the crew. It will be a sunny day in October, right around my eldest daughter’s birthday. It will be a rare job where we will sit down in folding chairs that we pull into the fields. It will be light and bittersweet, as it’s one of the last outdoor tasks that we do together as a crew before folks move on to the winter work and the cold settles in. It’s always one of my favorite days of the year, where a group of people who have grown accustomed to one another shoot the shit while their hands break seed.
The garlic bulbs lay dormant through the winter, and then poke up their greens with the first flushes or 50 degree warmth in April. By early June, they will send their flowering stalks up, called scapes, and we’ll spend a chunk of time breaking them off so the plant puts its energy into the bulb.
And then we’ll find ourselves back at where we started in the circle of time, harvesting once again.