One Last Critical Task

When people ask about my favorite vegetable, I often say it’s garlic. It asks for so little, and gives so much. Almost all I need to do for a good harvest is plant it in a well-drained part of the field amended with aged bedding from the winter chicken coop and mulch it deeply with straw. I also really like the whole process of growing garlic: seeing it thrust through the soil and announcing the arrival of spring, trimming off the curlicue scapes in June, filling the loft of the barn with garlic plants laid out to cure, selecting and improving the seed garlic, and, finally, planting next season’s crop here at the end of October in defiance of the coming winter.

As our veteran members know, one of our garlic varieties—the one with the purple splotches on the outside of its papers—is a variety handed down through my family for five generations. For the past few years, I’ve been slowly improving my seed stock, and to good effect. The heads are now larger and the cloves more numerous compared to the original ones my mother gave me six years ago. I’ve now decided to give this strain a proper name: Anna Barbara’s Ohio Red, in honor of my great-great-great-grandmother.

We’re just about ready to start planting next season’s crop, either this week or the next. The crew is nearly finished with breaking the garlic down into cloves, a process called popping the heads, and the soil is drying out enough for me to start thinking about preparing beds to plant them in. Once the soil is ready, we can plant the cloves, spread the chicken manure, mulch the beds, and, then, with the last critical task of the season finished, take a deep breath and brace for winter.