What's Better than Garlic?

Why, MORE garlic, of course!

I spent much of the morning working on poetry unit updates for my lit classes (no rest for the wicked or for online teachers) and the late morning and early afternoon hours cleaning up the yard again, now that the last of the leaves have fallen.

My monarch butterfly habitat project went nicely today–all the milkweed pods on the southeast side of the house were dry and splitting open, so I gave a few to a bunch of neighborhood kids.  It’s amazing to me that something that was so ubiquitous when I was a kid is a novelty to kids now.

milkweed podsThere’s nothing like pulling out a cluster of those delightfully silky floating seeds and running down the sidewalk loosing them into the breeze.  And even though they were a new treat for the kids, they were still as fun for them as I remember them being for me (yes, and they’re still fun for me).

If you’re worried about your tidy lawn being overtaken by milkweed, don’t.  If you mow them, they succumb quickly.  But if you let them grow, you’ll have lovely fragrant pink blossoms in summer.

milkweed in bloomAnd, you’ll be providing habitat for monarchs to lay their eggs.  Monarch butterflies only lay eggs on members of the milkweed family and their caterpillars only eat milkweed.  Milkweed sap is toxic, but it also tastes very bad (I’ve been told), so it’s not something that critters or people eat.

monarch caterpillar 1The nasty sap is what makes Monarchs unpalatable to birds, and that unpalatability in Monarchs is what also protects Admiral butterflies, whose looks mimic Monarchs.  Cool, huh?

But this post was about garlic.

My friend and fellow farmer (when she’s not working her butt off helping to save the planet for people who live here, which is most of the time) had some leftover certified organic seed garlic from Patti Bancroft, who was selling nice-sized bags of it at the Farmers Market Harvest Dinner.

bag of garlicShe’d offered it to me, and it seemed like a good idea to get more in.  I’d only put in 72 cloves, which is pretty good, but once I started thinking about next year, I realized that I should be planning ahead a little better.

Seventy-two heads might be a good enough amount to eat for myself and for a few CSA members if I take them on, but when you plant garlic in the fall, you’re also planting your seed for the next fall.  If you don’t plant enough for both eating and re-planting, you either have to buy more seed or cut into your eating supply. And that’s pretty tragic.

So I got out to the farm and started manuring and turning the rest of the top bed in the east garden–the 2′ x 51′ space below the trellis that I didn’t get to yesterday.

black dirt

You can see the difference between the turned area on the right and the unturned, manured section on the left.  Turning organic fertilizer into the beds in the fall is a good way to let the soil microorganisms get a head start on turning that manure into rich humus.

It also lets the mycelium (the webwork of fungi) recover, and that network works with the plants to help them get nutrients.  Mycelium is actually pretty darn fascinating–see Paul Stamets‘ work if you’re interested in all that great, geeky fungi stuff.

Once the manure was turned in, I grabbed H’s 100’ measuring tape and scrolled it out down the length of the bed about halfway between the trellis and the outer edge.  Then I started to plant–one clove per foot in the (yes, I’ll brag) gorgeous manured black earth.

planting garlicI’m hoping that planting the garlic in front (south) of the trellis reminds me to plant the sugar snap peas (that’s what’ll go there next year, then cukes after that) behind the trellis this time.

For some reason I’ve gotten into the habit of planting peas on the south side of the east-west trellises, so when they lean toward the sun, they flop away from the structure instead of twining into it, as I imagine they’d do better if I planted the seeds on the north side.

But that’s why there’s a next year, right?  For trying to do things better.

I ended up getting in all of the seed garlic Kelly gave me–58 cloves in all (I had to wrap around the east end of the bed a little to get those last few in).  That brings my grad total garlic planting to 130 cloves.  I’ll rest a little easier about my future garlic supply now, and chow down on what I’ve got saved back for this winter!


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