Garlic

I love growing garlic. It requires little attention, is attractive to no pests and reliably produces a great return.

We plant our garlic in October from cloves we select from the previous year’s harvest. Usually by mid-June it’s ready.

Digging it up is a little time-consuming as you have to use a digging fork to loosen the soil before you pull up the bulb, but by summertime farm work standards it isn’t difficult.

A handful of this year's crop

A handful of this year’s crop

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Once upon a time I tied and hung each plant to a cattle panel in our equipment shed where it would cure. Now that was time-consuming. These days we use a much more sensible technique–we lay the garlic out on top of overturned vegetable crates, surrounded by box fans. It dries out well this way and no tedious tying/hanging is necessary. This time of year our basement smells powerfully of garlic, which is alright by me.

Our low-tech, but effective, curing method

Our low-tech, but effective, curing method

I’ve found that our onions are usually ready to harvest by July 4, which coincidentally is when the garlic is cured and ready to be prepped for storage. In the early days I’d untie all the garlic, then tie and hang the onions in its place. Now we just gather up the garlic on the crates and replace it with onions. Works perfectly.

Fresh uncured garlic is a once-a-year treat and I recommend you try to find it at your farmers market next year. We offer it, dirty roots and all, and our customers rave about it. Of course they’re pretty fond of our cured garlic too–which is delicious and superior, of course, to store-bought garlic, most of which is imported from China.

Once the garlic is cured (that is, it has dried out and has the papery skin characteristic of cured garlic) we are faced with the task of cutting the stalks and roots off the thousands of bulbs we harvested. But the good news is that there is no rush. We knock it off a little at a time and it’s a good job for a dreary winter day.

For anyone who isn’t growing garlic, I recommend planting some this fall. It’s easy to grow no matter how ungreen one’s thumb might be. And in any event, try to source your garlic locally. Nutritious, delicious, medicinally valuable, locally-grown garlic is not only better tasting (usually heirloom varieties unavailable in grocery stores), but because it has fed off of the soil that nature designed to sustain life in your community, it’s better for you too.

PIPE dream

Not a Pipe

For a while now, whenever I started fretting about something not going exactly right on the farm, or if I started to get anxious about the amount of work to be done, Cherie would gently say, “Remember, all we’re trying to do is grow our own food and pay our bills.”

Over time that become a sort of motto for us: Grow our Food, Pay our Bills.

The point being that our objectives here are modest. We’re not out to achieve anything grand. As long as we grow our own food and keep our bills paid, we’re successful.

Eventually two more things were added to the “mission statement”: Educate the Public, Enjoy Life. It evolved into the acronym GPEE, which we chose to pronounce “GEEP.” Whenever one of us said something that suggested we were worrying about something too much, the other would respond, “Geep.”

But lately Cherie has come up with a better acronym.  She rearranged the four elements of our mission statement/motto into:

Produce our own food
Inform the public
Pay our bills
Enjoy Life

PIPE

And we call living this way our PIPE dream.

White Blood Cells

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In John Thompson’s book Jesus, Bread and Chocolate he describes living on a farm in Illinois during his childhood. He recalls seeing weeds reclaim a spot that had been used as a dump.

The dump was like a gaping, festering wound carved in ground that wanted to be beautiful. Over time, I noticed weeds, shrubs, and saplings start to grow thickly around the edges and then up through the middle of the dump. Vines spread their tendrils across an old washing machine. Slowly, relentlessly, the earth seemed to be healing itself. Those weeds were like white blood cells rushing to fight off an infection.

I really like the image of weeds as white blood cells. I too have seen nature cover up ugly messes made by humans. Remove us from the picture and it won’t take long for nature to bury our work, like ancient Mayan cities enveloped in jungle.

I spend a lot of time battling the weeds this time of year.  And by “weeds” I just mean plants growing where I don’t want them.

I can't get any closer to these beans with the cultivator without putting them at risk, so...

I can’t get any closer to these beans with the cultivator without putting them at risk, so…

Three hours later, the weeds are all pulled up and laying in the alley (where they will reroot after the next rain).

Three hours later, the weeds are all pulled up and laying in the alley (where they will reroot after the next rain).

Most of the time, the weeds I’m working hard to destroy are themselves working to heal wounds made by me. I rip open and pulverize the soil, then protect only the seeds and seedlings I desire. But nature sees bare soil, exposed to erosion, less able to preserve moisture and less hospitable to subterranean life, and she rushes in to cover and protect it. Like white blood cells fighting an infection, to use John Thompson’s image.

In our defense, we don’t poison the weeds, and we encourage them as long as they’re not competing with the plants we eat. As farms go, we’re a weed-friendly place. Still, when I’m plowing under and pulling up weeds, I’m working at cross purposes with nature.

Today I’ll resume my pitiful efforts to beat back the weeds, knowing that all I can realistically hope for is to slow them down. In the end, they win. And that’s OK by me. By the time they command the battlefield and claim their ultimate victory, we will have harvested our food. So we’ll win too.

November Kids

I used to keep our buck separated from our does, so we could manage when they kidded.  But in the last couple of years I’ve just kept them together, leaving it up to nature to decide when the babies would come. And nature has preferred January and February, even though those are the harshest months for the health of mama goats and newborn kids.

So I was delighted when all our nannies became amorous this month. A goat’s gestation period is five months, and in November our weather is usually mild. If we’re going to be out in the barn in the middle of the night assisting with kidding, I’d much rather do that in November than in January.

Our new billy goat Abraham has big hooves to fill, but he seems to have stepped up to the challenge. Once he’d done his duty in the barn pasture I took him to the other pasture in the hopes that he could work his magic there too.

On his way to another assignment

On his way to another assignment

Ready to get to work

Ready to get to work

The Daddy-to-be

The Daddy-to-be

But so far the girls in that pasture seem unimpressed.  I’m hoping they’ll grow very fond of Abraham soon. If not, we may have more January kids after all.

Weeding and the Goose

It’s impossible to stay ahead of the grass and weeds this time of year. Nature is in overdrive.  I spent a lot of time with my weedeater yesterday.  Like a chainsaw, I consider a weedeater a necessary evil on the farm. The weeds beneath the grapevines had grown to be taller than the vines themselves.  The situation called for drastic action.

I also spent time rescuing the zucchini, which was in danger of being overrun. But that weeding was all done by hand.  We’ll see how long it takes the weeds to regroup and return.

After battling back the weeds

After battling back the weeds

Grateful zuke

Grateful zuke

We’re harvesting an abundance of squash and zucchini these days, and enjoying meals featuring fresh squash (one of my personal favorites). We’re in the midst of transitioning to summer crops now and should have tomatoes, eggplant, green beans, potatoes and peppers very soon.  What a great time of year.

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Baby banana fingerling potatoes

We’re looking forward to returning the Wild Goose Festival, which is next weekend in Hot Springs, North Carolina. We’ll be giving a talk on Sunday morning and we spent part of yesterday preparing for it.

The theme of this year’s event is “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”  Our talk is titled “Peacemaking through Sustainable Living.” Here’s the blurb describing it on the website:

Talk – Peacemaking through Sustainable Living
A society that consumes more than it produces will ultimately collapse. Along the way, in order to survive, such a society will have to beg, borrow or steal from others. Violence and exploitation are inherent byproducts of overconsumption and unsustainable living.

Bill and Cherie Guerrant are farmers and advocates for lives of voluntary simplicity. They will discuss their ongoing journey to sustainable living, and how we can all help create a culture that lives peacefully and in harmony with the rest of creation, through simple living and ethical eating.

More about us and our talk HERE.

We’re looking forward to connecting again with our old Wild Goose friends, and to making new ones.

For the past few years this has been our only weekend away from the farm.  We have farm sitters lined up, so we’ll be swapping farm chores for a few nights in a tent in the woods by a river and a few days soaking up music, justice, spirituality and art.

For any readers planning to attend, we hope you’ll say hello if you see us.

Jesus, Bread and Chocolate

JBC

In his engaging and well-crafted book, Jesus Bread and Chocolate, John Thompson weaves into a memoir of his interesting life a look at the surging appeal of “artisanal movements,” evidenced by increasing appreciation of such things as locally-grown food, hand-crafted specialty breads, chocolates and beer. He sees in these movements a cultural yearning for high-quality, ethically-produced alternatives to the industrialized mass-produced products that are predominant in our culture (and that he sees reflected in many expressions of contemporary Christianity), and he calls upon the Church to reflect the values and ethics of these artisanal movements, rather than those of the industrialized economy. In a society that increasingly finds church irrelevant, this is a message that should resonate with many these days.

The author doesn’t presume to map out specifically what artisanal church (my words, not his) would look like. Rather, he shares his own fascinating journey from an impoverished and often terrifying childhood into the world of indie music, then eventually into an appreciation of good coffee, food, beer, and bread, and ultimately into an awareness that the evangelical world is largely imitating the industrial model, which many are finding to be unsatisfying, rather than gravitating toward the artisanal model, which he finds more compelling.  I learned a lot about coffee, beer and bread, and the author’s life story makes this book a page-turner.

Full disclosure: the chapter on local food features our farm and quotes me a lot.  I met John Thompson at the Wild Goose Festival a few years ago, when he was just beginning to work on the book. When he asked if I would allow him to use my thoughts on the local food movement (and our motives) I was happy to agree. My comments in the book will be recognizable, of course, to readers of this blog.

I’d never given much (if any) thought to how our society’s desire for high-quality locally-grown food might be related to other rising artisanal movements. Connecting them, as John has in this book, makes good sense to me now. The yearning for authenticity in our society goes much deeper than just a desire for good vegetables.