By David Plescia, farmer at Green Valley Community Farm, one of three farming operations at Green Valley Farm + Mill.
Of all the magical crops we grow here at Green Valley Community Farm, perhaps no other is as tough as garlic.
The beautiful bulbs curing in the barn right now are a testament to this toughness. This year's garlic crop had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at it.
Pictured above is the smoky November day last year that this year's garlic crop was planted. The smoke in the air, from the Camp Fire, an omen of the road ahead for those little cloves...
After a smoky but sweet garlic planting party with CSA members, we like many farmers, tucked our garlic in for the winter under a nice thick layer of straw mulch. Then we left. We closed the gates. The Sun went south. The Winter constellations turned overhead. And after a month or so, green spears of a vigorous young garlic cadets shot up through the mulch in neat little rows. "Huzzah!" said we.
Then came the wild turkeys.
We began to notice large flocks of our resident wild turkeys waddling through the garlic patch on their morning and evening farm meal walks. "Probably eating pill bugs and seeds," thought we, and let them be. But on a crop walk one chilly morn, we realized their methodical scratching was raking and heaping up mounds of straw upon our baby garlic spears, snapping and contorting them this way and that and blanching them asunder. We uncovered the unlucky ones and returned home, concerned. Lo and behold, every morning and every evening the turkeys returned, their peaceful mealtime a slow moving rampage on our young garlic crop. We yelled at them, we chased them, we threw things at them... to no avail, for pill bugs and seeds, they returned. Defeated, Kayta and I removed the mulch from the garlic beds into the pathways. The garlic straightened out, greened up, and stretched toward the waxing sunlight.
Then came the rain.
We need not tell tale of the squalls that were unleashed upon the garlic this winter -- of the constant wet, of the 25 year storm that flooded Guerneville -- for they were unleashed upon you too. Indeed, for much of the winter our garlic, who like relatively dry feet just like the rest of us, looked like they were growing in a rice paddy. And yet they persisted, growing and growing taller and stronger... in a muddy swamp.
Then came the heat.
Spring did finally come, but just for a few days before a nice 90 degree bake-off in May. But the garlic, especially the Creole garlic, said it didn't mind the heat-whiplash, "It reminds me of Spain," it said, and grew faster.
Then came the rain (again) and the fungus.
Who ever heard of 5 inches of rain in late May? This garlic has. The dank conditions created by the freak deluge in late May this year caused a minor outbreak of an allium fungal rust mostly reserved for Pacific Northwestern garlic patches. While potentially crop threatening when garlic is young, our mighty garlic crop, nearly fully grown by then, brushed off the rust as it filled out its cloves.
Then came the cement.
With bulbs formed and harvest time come, your farmers looked anxiously toward getting this star-crossed garlic out of the ground and into the safety of the barn. But the fair soil where we lay our scene, the very soil our garlic called home, void of mulch thanks to the turkeys, super-saturated thanks to the squalls of winter, then baked, then saturated again, then baked again, had hardened into a formidable substrate more akin to cement than soil. The mere thought of manually extracting 3,600 bulbs of garlic out of this substrate sent anticipatory shivers down your farmers spines.
Then came Jack...
We reached out to our kind neighbor Jack Tindle, who is a fancy old car mechanic and has a way with metal. Out of lesser parts from lesser needed tractor implements. Jack welded us a garlic lifter in approximately 3 hours on Wednesday morning. The rest is history.
On Thursday, we easily pulled the cloves, nudged out of the Earth by the lifter, and held them in our hands; vulnerable; dusty white; like pale moons. And smiling like nothing ever happened...