Fall is always full of thoughts of garlic. After all, following the mind-numbing pace of spring and summer planting, fall can bring an unnerving absence of things to plant, so to what remains, the mind clings like a shipwrecked sailor to flotsam, and sometimes too tightly at that. It’s typical for me to reach November having thought about planting garlic almost every fine fall day but having had to postpone it for some other more pressing task. The thought process goes like this: “Well, it’s September 30, and I guess I still have October to plant, so I’d better seed some fall greens instead…….Well, it’s October 15, and I guess I have another month or so to get it in, so I’d better get those squash harvested before first frost……Well, it’s November 1, and I hope it’s not going to get cold too soon. I’d like to plant garlic today, but I have to respond to that letter the IRS sent, so I guess I’ll have to do it next week.” Most fall days, instead of a hearty meal of garlic-planting action, I have to accept the thin soup of garlic worry. Of course, sooner or later I get to it, but not without a good amount of mental energy burned thinking about it on the way. Now if you are a habitual early garlic planter, getting it in late in September or, horrors!, in early October, then maybe you are relaxed and your falls pass worry free. Allow me to upset your cart and suggest your new garlic worry.
One of my more unnerving gardening preoccupations came from a book I read many years ago by Ron England called Growing Great Garlic. It’s an easy read, as most gardening books are, but it did plant a rather upsetting thought in my mind. As an aside I’ll mention that reading can sometimes do this, as in the period during high school when I first read of psychologist Erik Erikson’s developmental tasks then spent some years wondering rather doubtfully if I was fulfilling the appropriate task for my age. Lots of wasted mental energy there because things turned out fine even if my life’s course didn’t exactly match the Erikson typology. Kind of like useless fall garlic worry because it eventually gets planted and things work out fine.
Anyway, Ron England suggest in his book that the real way to plant garlic is to prepare the bed a WHOLE SEASON in advance. Ron, what kind of a terrible slave driver are you?
Of course we’d all like to have that kind of luxury, and as I recall, even England is quick to admit that he sometimes fails to follow his own advice. However, when he can, he prefers to have a whole year of rest for his beds to balance pH and nutrients and to get weeds under control. I couldn’t agree more, but all my farming life I’ve never been able to get it together to be that much ahead of the game. Prior to reading the book, I guess I didn’t fret that much about not being one year out, but since I got that suggestion in my head I haven’t felt totally right even about my timely garlic plantings. Somewhere in my consciousness, I hear England saying, “Yeah, your garlic’s in early, but what about that bed being ready a whole year ahead?’ Though I can only assume he is a good guy, in print Ron England comes across like one of those critical parents who will berate you for getting only an A instead of an A+. I mean even if I had planted my garlic in September, I still would have failed his year ahead criterion.
Even though one has internalized a harsh drill sergeant, and even though the inner monologue can be tiring, there are moments of pure glory when the high bar is actually reached. FINALLY this year I have achieved Englandian perfection in both planting my garlic crop for next year (nothing special) AND clearing a designated bed for garlic the following fall (special). Before I go any further I will say that this happened at my school garden, not on the rooftop. There’s NO WAY we’d let a bed rest up there for a full year with nothing planted in it. Rooftop real estate is just too valuable!
But at school, where the garden situation is decidedly terra firma, I have covered a grassy non-garden area with shredded leaves, added bone meal to help the decomposition, let them get wet with a few fall rains, and then I will cover them with plastic to aid with the speedy conversion of leaves into compost. Plastic stays on until next September when the weed-free, virgin soil is unveiled, only to be immediately put into garlic. Not only have I achieved a years-long garlic goal, I have expanded my garden to boot. Woot, woot!
So now that I have moved to the far right of the garlic planters’ bell curve, some three or more standard deviations from where I usually am, now that I have attained the gardener’s version of “king of the hill”, now that I have entered into that promised land of milk and honey, now what? Well getting that garlic bed ready for next year put me behind on a lot of other things, so once I’m off my garlic bed high, I’ll probably wind up spending at least some time worrying about those.