I wake in the middle of the night, as the snow starts to recede and before birdsong lights the morning, with a haunting question: Did the garlic make it through the winter?
Oh ye of little faith.
The final pile of sanded, salted, and cindered snow melted last week in Centre County. It was time to trudge down to my garlic patch to check on my babies. Whew, every row was highlighted in evenly spaced green sprouts of garlic leaves pushing up through the mulch of straw and oak leaves. One young garlic plant actually skewered a brown leaf, piercing through its center.
As the soil heats up, I will gently pull the mulch back from the plants, allowing spring rains to enter freely, piling the mulch between each row, suffocating any weed seeds itching to germinate.
I Skype with Marina and breathe with relief. “My garlic’s up. It made it through the winter.”
“My garlic’s been up for months,” she reports from the land of Ghent, where nary a snowflake settled on the ground.
“We had such a brutal winter…I was afraid it might not make it,” I whisper, with the regularity of Punxsutawney Phil.
Oh ye of little faith.
What it might come down to is garden guilt. You see, I was reading the Penn State Vegetable Guide and it recommended side-dressing garlic in March with a quarter pound of ammonium sulfate for every100 feet of row. The plants, PSU seems to say, need a St. Patrick’s Day nitrogen fix.
I don’t know about you, but in March I was planted on the couch under an alpaca blanket, hibernating with yet another Catherine Coulter FBI-shoot-‘em-up-non-suspense (the good guys/gals never die) library book. Venturing out to the frozen, snow-covered garlic patch with a bag of fertilizer is not my cup of Earl Grey.
Then I was sorting through my piles of papers, ruminating on the winter of tragic accidents, close calls, near misses, and yes, even loss. I found a clipping from The New York Times. A garlic grower was boasting about growing garlic bulbs the size of baseballs. Mine are closer to golf balls. Comparison breeds gnawing doubt.
I’ve been nurturing my garlic, up to a dozen or so varieties, for more than a quarter of a century. I grew garlic in the limey soil of the cement belt in Coplay, in the shale soil of Maxatawny Township, now in the clumpy clay of Happy Valley. Forget bulb envy, golf-ball size is good enough.
My winter garlic supply in the unheated garage is dwindling. It’s time for dinner. I reach for a bulb I moved to the kitchen and forgot about. There it is, in all of its glory, cloves full of spirit and sprout. It wasn’t planted and mulched with care, fertilized or coddled. No garden PhD coached those cloves, yet here they are, sprouting new green leaves, stretching out to capture the sun, and air, and life itself.
Oh me of garlic faith. Laurie Lynch
Written on Slate: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
– John Muir