I spent most of the day yesterday planting garlic.  If all goes as expected, we’ll be harvesting it in about eight months.

I sometimes tell folks who are nervous about trying to start gardening that they should consider beginning with garlic.  It’s easy to grow and there’s not much that can go wrong.

You’ll need a seedbed to plant in.  Raised beds work well.

You can plant the garlic that is available in grocery stores, but your best bet is to buy a few bulbs from a farmer at the farmers market who has good quality heirloom garlic.   If you’re going to plant a lot, then find a good source for quality seed.  In our part of the world I recommend Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Mid-October is the best time to plant garlic.  Traditionally it is planted on or around Columbus Day.

Break the bulb into cloves and plant the clove about two inches deep with the pointy end up.  All you have to do is stick the clove into the dirt.  Plant the cloves 6-8 inches apart.   Cover the ground with straw about 2 inches think, then just wait.

You’ll probably have a little weeding to do, but the straw should act as a weed-suppressing mulch (but beware that if there’s still a lot of seed in the straw you may end with a lot of little wheat seedlings competing with your garlic).

By mid-June the garlic will be ready to harvest.   The bulb grows underground, like an onion. Use a digging fork to dig it up.  If the ground is wet you may be able to just pull it up.

Fresh garlic is an amazing treat which most Americans these days have never had. Treat yourself to some of that and prepare the rest for storage.

To prepare garlic for storage, first hang it (or lay it somewhere that air can circulate through it) until it’s cured.  We use box fans to dry ours out faster but that’s not necessary. Once the leaves have all turned entirely brown the garlic should be sufficiently cured for storage.  At that point I cut off the leaves and roots and store the bulbs somewhere cool and dark.  Our basement works fine but a kitchen pantry would also do.

Save some of the bulbs for planting the next year and you’ll never have to buy seed again. It’s an easy, sustainable and self-perpetuating crop.

And best of all, it will be the best garlic you’ve ever had.


A Farm Without Pigs

For the first time in months, I did not begin my day by feeding pigs.  Once again we are a farm without pigs.  Yesterday I loaded ours onto a trailer and drove them to the processor, where they will become sausage.

We raised two this year.  I bought them as piglets, kept them in a barn stall for a few days until they were tamed and settled down, then released them into a six-acre pasture where they lived the porcine good life.  I love tending pigs raised this way and these two were especially easy and fun to keep.  I admit to being saddened a little when I reflect on their absence, and the reason for it.  But we are committed to operating a sustainable farm, that reflects the food values of our society before the onslaught of the industrial food complex. Small family farms for centuries have usually included a few pigs that are fed well, raised humanely, and dispatched with respect and dignity.  Hopefully we are part of that tradition. When it is time for their good life to end, our pigs nourish me and our friends and customers, and they contribute to the economic sustainability of the farm.  Their lives are acts of defiance against the empire.

We’ve had lots of pre-orders for the sausage.  Whole-hog sausage from Tamworth-Berkshire hogs, raised on pasture and without any hormones, antibiotics or GMO feed, is simply not available anywhere else.  Not around here at least.  I like to think that  choosing to buy sausage from farms like ours is also an act of defiance against the empire.

Now we will turn the goats into the pasture the pigs have been living in.  I didn’t mow it all year, and it is lush with grass and browse.  It will sustain the goats for a long time, reducing any need for us to feed them hay.

I’m already looking forward to next years piglets.

Farm Animals and the Problem of Evil

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae wasp, with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.

Charles Darwin (1860)

As anyone who has been reading this blog for a long time knows, I find the philosophical “problem of evil” fascinating and absorbing.  Every now and then I post some of my musings.   Here I go again.

The problem of evil mainly vexes theists, who suppose the existence of an omnipotent God, who is also perfectly good.  Arguably, the existence of evil negates at least one of those propositions.  That is to say, the existence of evil suggests that if God exists, then God either must not be omnipotent or must not be perfectly good.  A perfectly good God who is omnipotent, the argument goes, would use divine omnipotence to prevent or eliminate evil.

There is a general consensus among philosophers and theologians that the so-called “free will defense” solves the problem as it relates to “moral evil,” which is defined as evil that is the product of the acts of free agents (crime and war for example).  It is possible that a perfectly good Creator would value free will so greatly that such a God would allow it, even though it enables the doing of evil.

As I mentioned in a recent post, the question of “natural evil” (defined as evil which is not the result of the exercise of free will) is much more difficult.  Such things as childhood cancer, mudslides that bury villages, plagues, famines, devastating tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes, etc. clearly aren’t necessitated by free will.

In that post I touched on the fact that violence, predation and extinction seem to be part of the biological evolutionary creative process.  Likewise things like weather and plate tectonics seem to be part of the geologic evolutionary creative process.

But that isn’t very comforting or satisfying when trying to make sense of the tragic death of a child, or seemingly gratuitous suffering in nature, for example.

And why is so much violence built into the very biological fabric of living creatures?

The wasps to which Darwin referred in the quote above (taken from a letter he wrote to the biologist Asa Gray) lay their eggs inside the bodies of caterpillars.  When the eggs hatch, the baby wasps feed on the caterpillar’s internal organs, but in a gruesome way that keeps the caterpillar alive for as long as possible.  And probably all of us have seen a cat torturing a mouse. Nature abounds with such things.

A hornet killing a spider

A hornet killing a spider

In fact, most animals, from single celled organisms to humans, survive, at least in part, by killing and consuming other animals.   Nature , as Tennyson put it, is red in tooth and claw.

Ancient people tried to make sense of the violence and bloodshed of the natural world. According to the Biblical creation story, originally all animals were herbivorous and there was no violence in nature.   Violence, predation and death were introduced into the world, the story goes, as a result of “the fall,” following which the earth was cursed.  But the prophets foretold of a coming age in which all violence will end, the weapons of war will be beaten into farm tools and the predation and violence of nature will be no more:

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.

This certainly suggests that the ancients sensed there was something wrong, or at least imperfect, about creatures killing one another to nourish themselves and stay alive.

The traditional attribution of predation to “the fall,” however, simply cannot survive our current knowledge of the evolution of life on earth.  Whatever allegorical significance that story may have, predation existed for millions of years before there were humans, so it can’t reasonably be blamed on the moral shortcomings of our species.

I don’t know why cats torture mice, or why the Ichneumonidae wasp feeds by slowly killing its host from the inside.  But I’m confident that their behavior is not a result of any moral failings on either their part or on ours.  If such things qualify as “natural evil,” then we can just add them to all the other seemingly inexplicable natural evil in the world.

As for the prophets’ vision of a future state of harmony among all creatures, it is beautiful. May it come to pass.  For now, however, lambs do not lie down with wolves and lions do not eat straw.

But whether that “peaceable kingdom” ever comes or not, in the meantime we humans need not behave like the wasp or cat.  Animals destined to nourish us need not be tortured first.

With concentrated animal feeding operations and the industrialization of animal husbandry, humanity now inflicts more needless suffering on animals than ever before. The systematic torture and abuse of farm animals in our industrial food system is not something woven into the nature of our being. It is not necessary or natural.  It is moral evil.

CAFO pigs

Perhaps in some future age animals will no longer suffer.  John Wesley speculated that in the age to come animals will not only be free from violence, but that they might also be “raised higher in the scale of being…making them what we are now.”

Of course that is all just interesting speculation.  But in the here and now we live in a reality where animals suffer needlessly, in order to increase the profits of the corporations that churn out meat to feed humans who no longer appreciate the significance of animal husbandry.

We thereby reduce ourselves to the level of Darwin’s wasp.

That’s on us, not nature.


As the days shorten, so does my list of things to do.  The summer crops are dying out, so the summer gardens are being tilled, sowed with cover crops and tucked in for the winter, and the battle against weeds is over for another year.  Yesterday I cut the grass, probably for the last time until spring.   Today the pigs go to the processor, eliminating another set of daily chores.

Whereas in the summer the sun rises very early in the morning and shines until nearly bedtime, now the days begin much more leisurely and there is time between the end of the work day and the time to go to sleep.

The shortened days of fall and winter are more relaxed.  The farm doesn’t hibernate, but it does slumber.

Now I can start to turn my attention to the books I’ve neglected.  And most of all, to the thesis I must now finish.

Good Taste

At the Summoned to Wholeness conference we attended a couple of weeks ago we heard a farmer from Kentucky discussing, among other things, the challenges and difficulties of promoting and delivering good locally-produced food to poor communities.  He made some interesting points.

For example  he noted how food relief, both from charities and publicly funded sources, often provides predominantly food that is not nutritious and is of poor quality.  In fact, often it is food that we know will damage and ultimately destroy human health.  Do we want to minister to people by giving them the cheapest least-healthy food possible?, he asked.  I’ve raised that same question in our own faith community.  I strongly believe we ought not be giving people food we wouldn’t eat ourselves.

One of the problems we’ve observed, and the speaker had as well, is that people in poor communities often prefer crappy food.  Obviously that’s an over-generalization, but one that has generally been true in my experience.  According to the speaker, it is generally true in Kentucky as well.

He discussed an interesting exception to this generalization, however.  Among the so-called ethnic communities he serves in Kentucky there is still a preference for good quality food. Even in poor communities of Mexican-Americans he says they will gladly pay full retail price for naturally raised chicken, because the people still know what a chicken is supposed to taste like, not having yet been acculturated to prefer chicken nuggets and the like.

He argued that we must promote good food with a sense of urgency.  We have to act now, he said, while there are still people around who know what good food tastes like.

Our customers and CSA members are an interesting mix of folks.  Some are drawn to our food primarily for health reasons,  because they are recovering from serious illness, for example, or trying to avoid it.  Others are primarily motivated by ethical, religious or spiritual objections to the industrial food system.  Some are generally motivated by concerns for the welfare of the environment.  Obviously most have a mixture of these and other motives.  But some are primarily motivated simply by a desire to have food that tastes good. They want to eat food that tastes like the food they ate when they were growing up.

In other words, they still remember the taste of good food.

Obviously it is possible to persuade people who have never eaten good food to make the switch.  But it’s a no-brainer for those who already understand and appreciate the damage our industrial food system has done to the taste of food.

A Poem on Hope

A comment from Jeff inspired me to share this video of Wendell Berry reading one of his Sabbath poems, from the recent Bill Moyers interview which I posted a few days ago.  If you haven’t watched the entire interview, I strongly recommend doing so.  Even if you have, the poem is worthy of another listen.

On the show this poem is called “A Poem on Hope.”  It appears in his wonderful volume Leavings.  There the poem is untitled, except as “VI” of the his 2007 Sabbath poems.  Rather than attend a church service, Mr. Berry often spends his Sunday mornings walking around his farm and writing the poetry those walks inspire.  This is one of those poems.

Here’s the text:

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,

For hope must not depend on feeling good
And there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
Of the future, which surely will surprise us,
And hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction

Any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
Our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
The streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
Then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
Of what it is that no other place is, and by
Your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
Place that you belong to though it is not yours,
For it was from the beginning and will be to the end

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
Your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
Who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
And the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
Fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
In the trees in the silence of the fisherman
And the heron, and the trees that keep the land
They stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
Or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
And how to be here with them. By this knowledge
Make the sense you need to make. By it stand
In the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.
Speak to your fellow humans as your place
Has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
Before they had heard a radio. Speak
Publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
From the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
To the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
By which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
Underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
Freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
And the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
Which is the light of imagination. By it you see
The likeness of people in other places to yourself
In your place. It lights invariably the need for care
Toward other people, other creatures, in other places
As you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
Is no better than its places. Its places at last
Are no better than their people while their people
Continue in them. When the people make
Dark the light within them, the world darkens.


Let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or the book of God’s works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficiency in both; only let men beware that they apply both to charity, and not to swelling; to use, and not to ostentation; and again, that they do not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together.

Francis Bacon