Hand weeding with a hoe is what makes organic or biodynamic garlic dearer than the garlic raised by conventional farmers who kill the weeds by spraying petrochemical herbicides directly on the crop. Prices in the supermarket and also in farmers' markets of conventional produce are less expensive than produce where the weeding was done with a hoe by hand. Here Sarah weeds close to the garlic plants with a collinear hoe.
I pull an old New Holland 125 bushel manure spreader with my 35 HP Massey Ferguson tractor. The spreader is loaded from the pile using the bucket on the front end of the tractor; the spreader is then attached to the rear end of the tractor and linked to a power-take-off shaft that drives a chain to pull the load slowly into the rapidly spinning 12" blades breaking up the clumps and throwing the material evenly behind me. The spread manure and hay will be rototilled into the soil increasing its organic matter content and consequently its fertility.
At market strollers-by sometimes remark, "Oh look, they use both the lamb and the wool..." "Yes," I reply, "and we grow garlic in soil fertilized with sheep manure—nothing is wasted here.
In botany, a scape is a flowering stem. The scape of garlic, Allium Sativum, begins to curl after having formed a bulbil that will soon flower. Scapes should be broken off to enhance the final underground growth of the bulb, or what we call the head, which we will harvest in about two weeks.
When I lived in San Francisco’s North Beach I often took the 30 Stockton, an overhead electric trolley, that went through Chinatown. There, the bus was crowded—standing-room-only—and reeked of garlic, the so called "stinking rose," that is eaten to ward off plagues according to the annals of TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Sane people would not have planted garlic this late in the cold year but we are not sane people, we are farmers.
We were blessed by the fact that the field was not visible from the road; we were not seen by people driving by who 'know better' or knew that at any time before the clove had rooted, the ground could freeze hard, then thaw, then freeze again and heave most of the just planted cloves out of the ground.
Farmers are gamblers, we always bet on the weather; yet no matter how good or bad a farmer is, half the time the farmer loses. Good farmers must be good losers or become accountants.
Here Dominique puts a post in to string a row that will guide the planting of the cloves in a straight line along the bed so weeding in the Spring will be easier. "Weeding in the Spring?" did I hear you say, my good optimist, 'as if there will be any garlic growing then to weed.' But farmers must be optimists to wager against the elements for a living as they do and they must be singers to sing over and drown out the voices that question them.
Sunday I drove up to Saugerties, N.Y. to buy some seed garlic at the 21st annual Hudson Valley Garlic Festival. I met up with Dominique who was helping out at the Garlic Seed Foundation stand; we walked around the vendors looking for a Porcelain variety called German White because it has a big head with fewer but larger cloves—making it easier to peel—than the smaller Rocombole variety. German White grows well upstate and it is one of the strongest varieties known—achtung!—it's the variety we're selling in New York now and we're almost sold out for the year. Knickerbocker garlic mavens rave-on about it's fire, about how it lights up the heavens for them, "Why is it so special," I'm often asked, "Because it's grown in composted sheep shit, sir."
We easily found what we were looking for; I bought some German from three farmers there. I had taken my day off in a farmers' market, a postman's holiday for sure. But for me, one who abhors the swell of the crowd, this day, damp and grey, was lovely because quiet; it reminded me of what Wallace Stevens wrote but about snowy days, it was raining and it was going to rain, the forecast had kept the sugar people home.
Sugar people are people who melt in the rain, or so they say up in Sullivan County. When caught out of doors by a surprise shower these sweet persons grimace and yelp when struck by rain drops as if they're being pelted by molten steel. The sugar people were not in Saugerties this morning, nor were there many hardy souls wandering around in the drizzle either, but there was no one in/on line at the clam stand; I had steamed Little Necks in a garlic butter sauce for brunch to make my day.
But those long-faced stoic vendors idleing about their wet bulbs, I know that look so well.
On Monday morning in Astoria, Simone, Bianca, Becky and Nina piled into Ryan's ratty old Mercedes, "ratty and old"—like a good mink coat—is the only kind of Mercedes to own, for the 1 hour trip upstate to the farm. The day was glorious—spring-like in July—perfect to pull 1000's of heads of garlic. And the harvest time was right too: by next week some of the heads would have over ripened, split and lost their delicate skin.
This year the Porcelain variety was huge and the smaller Rocambole variety will be larger than most other garlic sold at Union Square. And what was equally impressive were the size and number of earthworms we pulled up entangled in the roots of the garlic heads. Earthworms inhabit fertile ground; we must thank the sheep for the soil's richness.