From the Farmer

Week 25 – 11/5/2014


Cabbage this week, carrots, sweet potatoes, garlic, salad mix, spinach and lemongrass.  Lemongrass: use it in a stir-fry or curry dish, or do as Charmaine does: buy a whole chicken, bunch up the lemongrass and stuff it where the sun don’t shine on the chicken.  Rub outside with a little olive oil and any other spices then bake.  20 minutes one side, 20 minutes the other, 20 minutes back on the first side. 

What Can Currency Look Like?

People used to trade in seeds.  Seeds make a nice currency because unlike a dollar bill or even a gold coin they have immediate and practical value.  You can eat it then and there, or you can plant it and invest edibly.  Dollars tend to disappear when you spend them, the money I spent on my new sunglasses doesn’t really grow more sunglasses.  Seeds on the other hand give you a pretty nice return.  Sometimes for any one seed spent you get thousands of seeds in return.  Amaranth is like this – the beautiful tall burgundy plants at the back of the garden each make thousands of small seeds, high in lysine and other rare amino acids, it makes a nice porridge.

Others, like garlic, are generous in quality if not quantity.  Most of the garlics we grow around here are hardneck varieties and these tend to give us six large cloves per bulb.  So with one bulb of garlic we plant six cloves, which next year will each give us another six cloves.  In year two we’re up to 36 cloves from the first bulb.  In year two each of those will form a bulb with six cloves, so we’ll have 216 to plant.  Year three we’re looking at 1,296 to plant again and year four 7,776 new cloves.  This assumes we don’t eat any…which we will…but you get the picture.  Farm wealth.  Especially considering garlic is an aphrodisiac.

We’re in the midst of planting our 2015 garlic crop.  If you don’t know planting garlic it is a pleasurable experience.  It’s easy, the same thing people have been doing for thousands of years – seriously, we’re talking generations and generations, taking our favorite garlics, saving a few for the garden, separating the cloves in late fall, and planting each clove one by one.  This is what people do now in the Anthropocene, we put some seeds in our pockets, we get home and our wives and girlfriends say, empty your pockets.  No not there, do it outside.  So we empty our pockets of the seeds we didn’t eat while we were hunting.  Next spring we see that there next to the cave-door there’s wheat and garlic growing.  Wow – I did that! – we say.  Then we save some of those seeds and we do it again, and we make some more space, put a picket fence around it and keep a dog to chase the deer and we scrape away the other plants that are growing in competition.  Eventually we learn to use decomposed material to fertilize and put a fish under hills of corn and, and, and the next thing you know we’ve got 400 hp tractors and laser-guided GPS tuned seeders and planters and camera-operated cultivators and forty-foot machines to harvest direct into trucks or crews of immigrants harvesting onto aluminum conveyors and hydrocoolers and shipping containers with pumps for ethylene gas to ripen things up, boated three thousand miles around the world and sold in huge concrete structures were we now think food comes from.

I got a little sidetracked there.  But it is pretty cool what we come up with to have a somewhat stable food supply and all.  And it lets some people farm and some people art and some people make shoes and most people don’t carry seeds anymore, instead the paper that sort of represents the value of a bushel of wheat, a liter of olive oil and other primary products.  

Anyway, let me tell you about garlic.  We don’t grow tiny thousand little bulbs mealy texture no taste garlics from China that you get in the store.  Why do they grow those anyway?  And why do we need to get them from China anyway?  What happened to Gilroy garlic?  What happened to Loudoun garlic?!  

We like our garlic like we like our garlic: robust, hot, big, taste-full, easy to peel.  I mean, they say size doesn’t matter but littlest bulbs are kind of hard to peel.  We grow varieties like German White and Italian Red; our own Willowsford White; Willowsford Red, a French softneck (softneck is the kind you can braid and hang in your kitchen); Georgian Fire (a porcelain type); Xi’an (a turban type); Ziemaiai; Brown Tempest (a glazed purple stripe); Bzenc (a marbled purple stripe); Jovak (marbled purple stripe); Khabar (marbled purple stripe); Metechi (marbled purple stripe); Purple Glazier (a glazed purple stripe).  Exotic.  Sexy.  Spicy.  Easy to peel.

Growing new varieties in any category is trial and error, and the disease pressure we’ve had over the last couple of seasons is quite possibly a good thing.  Exposing varieties to the range of what can go wrong here at our special farm is the School of Hard Knocks for breeding, breeding for what some geneticists call Horizontal Resistance.  It’s worth noting this is a different approach from Vertical Resistance, what most modern breeding programs employ.  This is the kind of thing we can do ourselves here on our own farm.  We keep the best of what survives, and then choose again from what keeps its form in rough storage conditions. If it makes it through till the end of October, we plant and can save it again after it weathers another year’s worth of conditions.  We’ll keep picking the ones we like the best, too.

You can do this, too.  If you want to try different kinds of garlic, pick up a sampler pack at the Farm Stand.  We’ll have only a limited amount of these and they should be at the stand as early as Wednesday.  We’ll add two cloves of four different garlics: one to taste and one to plant.  You might notice different intensities of heat, different locations in your mouth where you taste, different times the heat hits you… some might be good raw and great for salsas, some better baked or roasted, some better left on the door to keep you safe at night.  All are powerful healing food.

Taste it and also plant it.  Simple: take a bulb or a sample clove and pick a clove that is hard – rock hard, all skin attached and no wounds, bruises or blemishes.  Plant it in soil you’ve prepared with a fork and is well composted.  If you want you can add some mineral amendments, feel free to ask about this.  Cloves have a pointy end and a flat end with a plate and little bumps.  That’s the root-side and that should go down.  Pointy end up.  Plant two or three inches deep.  You can mulch with straw or hay if you like, or just keep an eye on it and keep the weeds away.  Garlic will send out roots first to stabilize itself over winter, and then will send up a green shoot.  In spring it’ll grow like gang busters (give it some liquid fish and seaweed in early spring), then in late spring it will start to form the bulb.  At this point don’t give it any fertilizer.  It should be ready to harvest in early July.  “In at Halloween and out at 4th of July,” they say.

I’ve also got a proposition for you.  We’re looking for a good roasted garlic spread recipe.  Or infused oil or something else good you like making with garlic.  Any suggestions, what do you like to do with it?

Be great,


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