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Wednesday, 18 October 2017 15:56

Planting garlic means it’s fall, y’all

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As if the changing colors, cooler temps and falling leaves weren’t reminders enough, there’s also those walnuts dropping like cluster bombs onto every metal roof with each gust of wind, busy squirrels underneath. But for me it’s always sticking garlic cloves into the ground that means it won’t be long before the white stuff starts to fly, and it will, despite the warm afternoons.

Fall may seem like the wrong time to be planting things in the garden, but until the ground freezes hard those cloves many of us plunge into the earth will begin sending out roots that will help anchor them into the soil, preventing them from being thrust out by frost heaving the soil upward while it creates it’s icicle menagerie on the surface. Slowly growing all winter long and even sending out a tiny green shoot through the snow, they’re preparing to capture the first warming rays of spring sunshine, giving them a jump on the rest of their competitors in the cool moist dirt.

The summer’s tomato plants have been yanked and the last of the peppers and beans plucked from from their aging parents. The beds need to be cleaned and ready to accept these pungent, ivory-colored gems signaling the end of one season of garden projects and the start of another. For those of us trying to scratch out crops on these hillsides, planting garlic means it’s also time to bring in lots of firewood, clean the ditches, chimney and gutters, change the water filter, fill the propane tank, change the antifreeze in the truck, check the insulation and heat tapes around the well, and plugging any new holes so we can keep the water flowing and the wind out when the mercury drops toward zero. Hell, no wonder planting garlic makes me so tired! It’s a sure sign that we’ve seen the end of the sweaty days and the plunges in the creek to cool off, another growing season blasted by and soon enough we’ll be harvesting those beautiful plump bulbs and celebrating July 4th.

The health benefits of garlic have been known since the time of the Egyptians, and recent studied have shown that the compound Allicin it contains helps to lower cholesterol levels, regulate blood pressure and blood sugar and the antioxidants present protect cells against aging and diseases including the common cold.

For most, it’s the flavor it imparts to foods that make it so special. Most folks who I know that like garlic, really like garlic, bordering on an obsession or cult following. My friend Joe the Italian cook uses enough to require buying by the truckload.

I roped a friend into helping me plant this year (for beer), so while he cleared the summer’s weeds and scratched up the earth I cracked the bulbs or “heads” that have been drying in the barn the past three months into the hundreds of individual cloves we would be planting. A little lime, bone meal and compost mixed into the beds and we were ready to stuff next year’s hopes an inch or two into the soft soil. A layer of straw or mulch helps protect the little orbs and gave a picture perfect finish worthy of toasting, so we did.

With a good portion of the early leaves already blown down, more light filters through the canopy accentuating the growing length of the shadows. Many of summer’s songbird have already departed for warmer climes, leaving the calls of crows, pileated woodpeckers and “year ‘rounders” to fill the quiet of the woods. We may not have any summer left, but who doesn’t like fall out here?

We’re only granted 70 or 80 chances to plant garlic in a lifetime, and there’s no better time than October in the mountains. I got it done. I’m happy.

Now where’s my list … it’s fall y’all.

(John Beckman is a builder, farmer and SMN contributor who lives in Jackson County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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