From Offshore: Little Garlic Operation
Wednesday, November 30, 2016 2:51 PM
This time of year the pleasant, sunny days become a bit more valuable, and aren’t to be thoughtlessly squandered on paperwork and indoor improvements. A blue-sky, no-wind day this late in November is not when one wants to be cleaning out underneath the sink, or staring at ledgers and doing sums. No; outdoors we go. There is always plenty to be done, no matter the condition of one’s estate.
Eva Murray lives, works and writes on Matinicus Island.
I have to tend to the needs of “my little garlic operation.” The whole thing sounds more businesslike than it has a right to. It got that moniker a few years ago when I realized that my summer bakery business was making it just about impossible to cultivate tomatoes properly and to take care of a nice garden. “Argh,” says I, frustrated by the weedy hayfield my vegetable patch had become; “I ought to just plant the whole danged thing to garlic, mulch the heck out of it, and stop worrying!” After calming down a little I realized that wasn’t such a bad idea. I didn’t plant “the whole thing to garlic,” because the initial investment would be a bit rich, but I began to take the cultivation of garlic more seriously.
Initially I thought I might sell enough of the garlic to at least pay for my own — thus the “garlic operation” — but that hasn’t happened, and it’s nobody’s fault but my own. I avoid garlic-mongering to the “summer people” who want to buy it, fearing I will not have enough. There has always been enough.
What a garlic operation requires is a generous layer of mulch. The individual cloves are planted in the late fall and need to be protected from too much freeze-and-thaw and upheaval and distress. As I have plenty of yard in which to grow tall grass, which thing happens of its own accord, I found myself tempted at the Common Ground Fair, a few years back, to consider the purchase of a scythe.
You’ll have surely encountered a few myths about that storied agricultural tool. Allow me to bring us up to date. A scythe need not be an anachronism, and is certainly more than the spooky symbol of the Grim Reaper or something drawn into comic strips to depict long-forgotten junk in the back of the garage. A scythe is not a difficult tool to use, if — and this is for real — if it is the right size for the operator. Something gigantic left over from great-grandfather’s lunkiest field hand might not be what you want if you are five-foot-three, like me. But a new snath (that being a scythehandle), measured for your height, with a sharp new blade from Austria and all necessary oddments can be had from Scythe Supply in Perry, Maine. I’d recommend it.
Matinicus Island agriculture is seeing a bit of a resurgence of late. There are cows in the field, there is pork and lamb in a few select freezers, there are bees in the hives and eggs aplenty. My little garlic operation isn’t a big piece of the aggie scene out here, but I’m thinking I could expand my industry.
As I was swinging the scythe and happily cutting hay in my little backyard “high mowing” under the Internet tower, the flying service made their last few trips to and from the island in the bright twilight. A clear autumn night — if you can call it night when it’s only a quarter ’til four — makes for an interesting sunset. Brilliant orange contrails stood out against a dark blue sky as I raked up the last of the hay and started in with the wheelbarrow, to deliver it, armload after armload, to my little garlic operation on the other side of the property. I got the garlic patch nicely bedded down just as it grew too dark to work; then took the scythe apart, stood the snath in a corner and put the blade away safely, and turned the wheelbarrow over so it wouldn’t fill with ice.
As we watched the weather on the 6 o’clock news, and the weatherman advised about rain and freezing rain and “wintry mix” and oobleck falling out of the sky in the days to come, I was very truly thankful for the rototilling being done, and the garlic in, and the hay cut. It is a passage of the year, a landmark in time, a signifier of winter. I can sit back and know that we’ve done all we can for the next year’s harvest, and if there is to be a nice heap of the pungent allium in August, we’ll find out come spring, when things begin to sprout. Not much more we can do now; the garden has been put to bed, and the blanket is thick and soft.