That bunch of teeth there is a group of ecstatic city dwellers being herded to their garlic planting work stations in the back of the ute – a nice little thrill for all concerned. Planting 2,500 cloves of garlic seemed to Karen and I a nice reason to get some help. But before they came for the day, we had to turn a patch of grass into a field.
There’s a lovely flat on my patch of land edged by Yandoit Creek (named Hermit’s Hollow on account of the fact that it’d be an ideal place to spend time unnoticed). It’s in a valley, completely private and downhill from a (broken) dam. Critically for gardeners, there’s topsoil. About an acre of arable land will easily do for a four-yearly garlic crop rotation with the sort of modest production Kaz and I are interested in. If we do want to go bigger there’s a much larger flat a little further along over the next hill.
Craig helped out with a tractor – fossil-fuelled muscle worth many times the $150 he charged.
Wanting to do this whole thing as cheaply as possible, we spent a good couple of days gathering generously donated horse manure and spreading it over the ground. Then Kaz went home to Melbourne and I thought “more poo.” The beauty of living in the country is that there is no shortage of this stuff, so I went visiting Paul’s shearing shed.
Won’t be displaying that kind of solo enthusiasm again. Crawling on my knees and dragging sheep pearls out hurt a lot. Even with an admittedly genius tool – a family heirloom of sorts apparently, which shows what you can do with a foraged road sign.
Another weekend later and after application of gypsum, a little agricultural lime, blood & bone and some pelleted chicken poo, we hoed. As I drove to the hoe hire place I thought grimly again about fossil fuel and how much of it we were using to grow this garlic. Hand digging such a plot would have been possible, but not pleasant. I imagine a future universe in which a horse-drawn plough might again be the norm and that idea doesn’t seem too dark to me but for now it’s a drive to Maryborough for soil improvers and another drive to Carisbrook to hire the rotary hoe.
Now Karen’s a seriously athletic person but the rotary hoe can get away on you until you’re used to it, so that picture above is not Karen driving the beast masterfully, rather chasing it. 40 minutes and a full circuit later I had a go with less finesse.
Some fencing (thank you Michael) about which I’ll write little because even the memory of fencing puts me in a bad mood – it’s bloody expensive, looks ugly and the process never goes as smoothly or quickly as you’d like.
And then the big day. We retrieved the garlic seed from Gerhard’s cellar and spent the whole morning breaking up the bulbs into individual cloves – dividing them into varieties, weighing it all. Something we should have done the day before as it took us about four hours.
I stuck everyone in the ute and we got down to the patch. Garlic doesn’t like getting soggy so the first task was to make raised beds – a bitch of a job frankly, with metal rakes and consistent use of stomach muscles. After the raking, the planting. The bigger the cloves you start with, the bigger the bulb you end up with and our champion seed needs space. So a good 15-20 cm between each and more between the rows did the trick.
Your knees need to be in good order to plant garlic. You need two men for a gate-making project. There will be children who make a cubby house of the round straw bale and spread the stuff everywhere except on the beds. One kid will jump out of a moving ute and land on her head. The dog will generally annoy everyone and the whole job will get tiresome before it gets finished. The ceaseless repetition in handling anything larger than a backyard gardening project is a reason for machines I guess, but I really enjoyed the day and I hope it felt like fun for everyone else. The provisioning was excellent, we drank a lot of tea.
On a sunnier day a week later I got to planting the last of the seed. So we’ve got up to 3,000 seeds in varying amounts of Italian Purple, Austral, California White, Hollingsworth White, Rojo de Castro and a tidbit of Mystery Purple A.
I reckon the pointy end of the garlic market in Australia will become all about varietals eventually, much like it has for potatoes. And when you’re small, that’s the market you’ve got to aim at. But we’ll see if we’ve got any to sell first – and I’ve had a few concerns about the crop because in the last month it’s been quite wet. And wet mulch lends itself to mould. I anxiously observed the patch for signs of green and five weeks after planting was rewarded with some tufts.
It’s always like that with seed. You worry about the little babies. And then you remember they’re quite tough and they’re going to get up all by themselves.