Weekend essay: Metaphors in garlic

Weekend essay: Metaphors in garlic

JONES MOUNTAIN, W.Va.

An experiment on a grand scale is about to bow on the windswept and sun-soaked slopes of these foothills to the Appalachians a short hour to the southwest of Pittsburgh.

Over the last month or so, the tractor has been used to carefully carve out a series of long terraces into the hillside.

Onto those terraces have been dumped yards and yards of mulch. That was followed by many more yards of mushroom manure. Then there were the bags and bags of bone and blood meal and worm castings. And let’s not forget the ample pelletized alfalfa.

Over the past few weeks, that wonderful mixture of pure organic gold has been tilled into the terraces. With the help of a few rainfalls, it will settle and rest. “Rest,” at least to the naked eye. Underneath all that earthen subtlety, plenty of added worms will perform their magic.

And come late September, not long after the Harvest Moon, well over a hundred garlic bulbs will be sown into the richly amended soil.

Hedging one’s bets — given the conflicting winter prognostications of the Old Farmers’ Almanac and the Farmers’ Almanac – softneck and hardneck garlic will be intermixed. The latter will ensure at least a half harvest should OI’ Man Winter deliver a particularly harsh blast that the softneckers might not survive.

Once sown, the garlic will be covered with a cozy blanket of straw. Up until the first hard frost, and likely through any summer-like reprise in late October, those bulbs will form a hardy root system that will give the crop a “clove-up,” so to speak, come spring.

Hopefully, the garlic will peak through the straw as the late winter and early spring sun melts the last of the snow and warms the soil. Those tops will wave to the gentleman farmer as he prepares other in-ground garden plots and raised beds for spring planting.

By mid-May, the top scapes of the hardneck garlic will offer – in soups, stews and salads — a delectable preview of what’s to come. Those scapes will be harvested not only to enjoy but for a practical purpose – to direct all of the plants’ energies into the final six weeks of bulb production.

And as May turns to June and June to early July, those single cloves planted nearly 10 months earlier will have matured. Out of one will have grown many.

Each plant will be carefully pitchforked out of the soil. Uncleaned, save any loose dirt from the roots, they will be grouped, their top shoots braided, and hung for two-or-so weeks of curing in a well-ventilated and dry area.

The garlic will be put to great use and regularly in those following months.  A lot will be shared. Much will be stored, some saved for fall 2019 sowing. Ah, the circle of garlic life.

An English proverb traced to 1594 had it that “Garlic makes a man wink, stink and drink.” In certain volumes and in certain applications, that’s probably not far off the mark.

But should this coming garlic crop pan out as hoped – and it has and will be given every opportunity to do so — it will make this man yet again appreciate the wonders that can result from assiduous planning, fealty to task and necessary follow-through.

As with garlic, as with life, yes?

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).