Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Midnight Harvest

Summer has finally arrived at the Hamptons, turned on by the hoards or maybe the bang of Fourth fireworks, like some sort of intensity driven clap-on switch. The delis typically filled with workmen at noon are now cluttered with bikinied girls in flip flops and boys with upturned collars and canvas shoes. Seasoned drivers hazard the zigzag route, north of 27, through residential neighborhoods and occasional farm fields in order to avoid the maladious march toward Long Island's farthest beaches and towns. The area street signs are vertical, an effective way to confuse the northern route with difficult to read black on white vertical letters. Entering the Hamptons is a process that was old when I was 10 and a sore point now that work is waiting on the other side. But I digress because my point was that it had become sunny and hot. My prior harvest trip was humid, but cool, foggy, with occasional rain storms. Saturday's sun was exceptional, although the heat improved by a few degrees on Sunday.

On the second morning of this three day harvest trip, we spied the fox. I've seen one before, during planting season, traipsing across our farm fields. 

The hard work of harvest is bolstered when the yield is excellent. Unfortunately, due to the many conditions I've discussed in prior posts, the strains pulled on Saturday and Sunday were so unproductive as to be completely unmarketable. Purple Stripe 'Chesnok,' Creole 'Aglio Rosso' and 'Burgundy,' Porcelain 'German Hardy' and 'Georgian Crystal,' and Asiatic 'Asian Tempest' all performed so weakly that I cannot offer them to the public and do not think highly of them as seed stock.

There is a notion in the garlic seed business that garlic needs to "acclimate." There is another notion that to get high yields, one must start with large cloves from large bulbs. So, if the bulbs are yielding little, say less than an inch in diameter, and you consider the cause to be acclimation, then you must plant those little cloves in order to "acclimate" them. But, then you are growing small cloves from small bulbs. Is it a catch 22? I'm going to find out. I cannot afford to buy all new seed bulbs of poorly performing varieties and strains. I will need to plant these and see if I can size them up with improved cultural conditions in the next growing season. Those that aren't desirable for their flavor will be discarded.

Betsy and I worked long days. If it wasn't for my wife's steadfast help I wouldn't have come close to harvesting, bundling, labeling, and hanging the thousands of bulbs ready to pull. I recall, last week, having a moment where doubt set in from the overwhelming quantity of work before me. On this trip, and with good reason, Betsy had her moment on the second day. This work wasn't her choice, it was mine, and she wanted to know where all this work was leading. I didn't have any answers.

I think there is an idea out there that 'farm' is a couple's endeavor. I believe it is component to the wholesome image of the American farm family. My farming neighbor chastised me a week ago as I harvested alone, asking where Betsy was while I was "slaying the beast that I created." My answer to him was that she had better things to do than pull garlic out of the ground. This kind of labor is not ennobling and it doesn't pay bills. It is seriously fatiguing; sore back and legs, sun burn and bug bites. The folks "returning to the land" in this area are often people with means looking for a more meaningful lifestyle. That doesn't make the work any less hard, but it does buffer it when the returns you hoped for aren't there, as you clean up at a reasonable hour, shower and sleep in your own house so that you can get back at it the next day. My project is sharply delineated by limited resources and the generosity of others. It is promulgated by will, muscle, and a creative spirit. My wife has better things to do, but I am grateful for every ounce of energy she has put into my endeavor.

The field is almost clear now with the exception of the Marbled Purple Stripe 'Siberian' and Silverskin 'Nootka Rose' and 'Rose du Var.' The weeds, primarily heat-loving crab grass, have taken over. I will head out this Friday for three more days of harvest and other tasks to wrap up the 2012-13 growing season.

It was sundown by the time we made it to the South Ferry to Shelter Island and nearly dark by the time we made it to the barn in Southold. I was grateful that the person renting the farmhouse adjacent to the barn did not complain while we worked into the night and even more so for the lousy pizza place that was still open on a Monday in a town with very little to offer after nine pm.

This is the curing 'loft' when we arrived, the blue light of late evening contrasting with the yellow of a studio clamp light.

And this the loft at midnight. The crates are filled with Elephant Garlic which we had no time to bundle and tie, and no manner to hang them. We spaced them widely within the crates, alongside the crates, and even on top of the crates. I think I may place them on a rack over the shallots since they are so large. The 'loft' as it is barely has any room left for the incoming Siberian and Nootka. Each cord only a foot apart and bottoming out at about four feet gives little room for navigating the garlic.

This weekend will be the last days on the farm for a while as we head out to Minnesota to visit Betsy's family in mid July. The garlic will be hung and curing in the barn. If all goes well, garlic sales will open in early August online at Hudson Clove. In addition to online sales, Hudson Clove has been offered a table at New Amsterdam Market, although when they will have another market is still up in the air thanks to corporate-friendly planning by Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn. Should there be a market after August 1, I will let you know.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for telling the story. I don't know what else to say...


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