Garlic planting time

October brings cooler weather, and that means it's time to plant garlic.  We love the stuff, and use it in our cooking every day.  Which means we need to plant a lot of it!  

There are many varieties of garlic, broken down into two subspecies: hardneck and softneck.  Hardneck garlic has a stiff stalk that emerges out from the narrow tip of the bulb and becomes the tall green scallion-like plant above ground.  Some of the varieties we grow here are Music, Romanian Red, Polish Hardneck, and Georgian Crystal.  Hardneck garlic is a cook's delight, in that each bulb grows four to five large cloves, which are easy to separate from the stalk and quick to peel.

Scapes on the way to market, June 20Softneck garlic has, you guessed it, a softer stalk; these varieties of garlic have many small cloves covered by a silvery thin skin. (We grow Silverwhites and Inchelium Red.) Softnecks last longer in storage, and can be planted mechanically, two reasons why supermarkets carry that type almost exclusively. Hardnecks take a little more labor, as they have to planted by hand in a particular way, and their "scapes"--the curly green tops that appear only for a short while in spring, and that taste like garlicky scallions--have to be pulled by hand.  

And here's the genius of garlic:  you take a bulb of garlic, and break it into its cloves, let's say there are five.  Then you plant each of the five cloves in the ground, a few inches deep and six inches apart.  Next spring, you'll have five bulbs!  It's like magic.

So, to plant hardneck garlic:  using some kind of implement, dig holes around four-five inches deep and about one-two inches wide; there's a tool for that called a dibble (the wooden tool in the picture to the left).  The holes should be about six inches apart.

Eight little cloves, ready to sleep for the winterThen you simply place each clove, root end down, in one of the holes.  The pointed tip should be about 2 inches from the surface.  Finally, tuck the cloves in with some dirt and cover the whole area with mulch.

And then you just have to wait until spring.  

This year is the first year that the farm grew enough garlic both for seed and for our use (70 lbs!)--which is the key to farming, I think--taking care that we have sufficient stores for the winter, and making sure that we'll have a plentiful crop next spring.  I am learning to think in three timeframes, not simultaneously, but imagining back and forth in time to balance out the wishes of the present moment, the needs that may come in the deep winter, and the plans for next year's crops.  It's good mental exercise, and I find that I'm pretty sorely lacking in knowledge about how much food we'll need to get through the winter, and how many seeds we should plant or save for next season...The Sisters here are remarkably able to move forward without too much worry, there's no sense of hoarding, or incessant calculating, or spreadsheet madness.  I'm trying to put my own tendencies to plan and chart and count aside, and gently slip into the stream of faith that they so easily seem to swim in...

your one wild and precious life

"The Summer Day" 
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world? 
Who made the swan, and the black bear? 
Who made the grasshopper? 
This grasshopper, I mean— 
the one who has flung herself out of the grass, 
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, 
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down— 
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. 
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. 
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. 
I don't know exactly what a prayer is. 
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down 
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, 
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, 
which is what I have been doing all day. 
Tell me, what else should I have done? 
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? 
Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one wild and precious life?

I've been contemplating a new title for this blog, and was most recently settling on the phrase "one wild and precious life" from the poem above.  Part of my move to the farm, to this attentive life, came from my understanding, all of a sudden, on a small boat rocked by rain and waves off the coast of an island in Honduras, that we only have this one life, that we are such small creatures in this great universe, and that there is no time to be wasted.  

We had gone out early with a marine ecology boat, to look for dolphins and observe the marine life.  The boat was partially uncovered, and we sat toward the back, getting lightly sprayed with water as the boat rode against the waves.  And then it started drizzling.  And then it started raining.  And I thought, well, we're about to go snorkeling, what does it matter to get wet?  And then it started raining for real, and the chop came over the sides in huge waves.  As the water poured down on me from above and from the sides, I had a flash of insight:  we are mere specks in a giant sphere of water...And I began laughing, joyfully...

We are mere specks in the flood, and we are here for just a few moments.  This realization comforted me, gave me perspective...and made me desire to be connected to the natural world.  Being out among the open sky and the big water makes my soul soar...being among the trees and the dirt makes me breathe more deeply, slows my pace, makes me see.

So I've been toying with the phrase, "one wild and precious life," because that's what I want this blog to focus on...that realization that this is it, this is my life, and every bit of it matters.  How am I going to live this life?  How will I make use of the time I have?  What will I do to bring joy to others, to comfort, to heal?  I write to help me slow down and appreciate, to be present to my own experience, to stop rushing through time, to cease my stomping on the ground.  To prevent me from deferring, postponing, doubting, squashing.

And the phrase seems only more apt after this week, which brought about the death of one of the most remarkable women I've known, Gail Burns-Smith.  I knew her primarily as my best friend's mother, and she was like a second mother to me, especially during the rough years of high school and college.  She always welcomed me; when I brought my partner Anne to meet her, she welcomed her like a daughter, too.  Gail was also a passionate advocate and organizer, focused on stopping sexual violence against women.  This week, as tributes and condolences poured in from across the country, I learned just how effective she was, how her work was instrumental in passing the national Violence Against Women Act, as well as numerous state laws, and in creating the national model for victim advocates.  Her obituary, written by her husband Tom, the profile of her from the organization she built, and the feature on her in the Hartford Courant, together begin to illuminate just how much of an impact she had, and how much she was loved and admired.

But nothing can really capture her laugh, her incisive wit, her courage, her big heart.  By the way she lived her life, I think she must have understood that all we have is one wild and precious life...tell me, what will you do with yours?