Tuesday, May 7, 2013

May Garlic

Ahab's Maggot

I'm now visiting the farm at two week intervals, primarily for weeding -picky, on your knees weeding. I've been lucky, its been cool and dry so that major weeding has been unnecessary.  I bought three hoes in February so that I can work like a real farmer and Saturday I used them. But as I said before, these hoes are brutal. I decapitated a handful of garlic because of slightly mistaken gestures. The cuts are clean, off with their heads! clean, and what remains must be dug out. I'm not clear on the reason, but these hoes have three sides of the blade razor sharp so that even mere side swipes cause injury. Even though I was able to weed the entire plot in 3 hours (that is how long it took me to weed last year's plot at a quarter the size), it is time to retire these hoes from intra-row duty. Next visit it's all hands and knees. 

I was taken by this enormous (so large that it wouldn't fit in my camera) cherry right beside the farm gate.

And happy to see the pea greens I planted two weeks ago had all come up, each and every one. Let the FFSA (friends and family supported agriculture) begin. These are for salads and stir-fry.

The other reason for my visit of course is the health of my rows. Above is a good example of unhealthy garlic. The leaf curl is the primary indicator (yellowing leaves, secondary) of acute disease.

Digging up garlic now shows that last November's planted cloves are gone or nearly so. In my field, some were eaten by the maggots, but most were used up by the growing plant which by May are growing on their own. Notice how large the stem is -this would have been a nice sized bulb.

Look inside the red circle to see what I believe is a young maggot. Onion maggots have several generations a year and right now we are between generations. In looking for samples to send Cornell, I found some pupae and some very small maggots, but few flies or mature maggots like I found two weeks ago.

What concerns me is that the next generation will be ready just as the garlic begins forming its cloves -what we call the bulb, and a feast for that next generation. The thought is dispiriting.

Then I notice the light over the wheat field, the way it plays off the budding trees. I make my way to the field's edge. The sky is not the dirty blue of Brooklyn, not even the sharp blue of a winter's day. 

I look to the northeast where a new farmer, Frank, (two Franks? Long Island generates the most Franks) discs his field. He is not alone. Their voices carry on the wind -I hear them with perfect clarity, yet they sound diminutive, far away. That same wind carries the perfume of ocean-side convalescence.

How bad can things be, really, given the beauty all around? It is easy to take myself too seriously, to allow a fatalism to take root. Though the force of circumstance is insistent, I cannot allow it to take away all force from myself.

And I go about hoeing my rows, culling the culls, bagging the samples, spraying fish and kelp, and then planting the heirloom onions.

I quit at sundown to drive back to Brooklyn, passing through the Hamptons now filling with its seasonal inhabitants; the restaurant lots filled this Saturday evening. At Riverhead I detoured north toward the Sound, to drop a large brown paper bag filled with smaller bags of culled garlic at the doorstep of Cornell's Horticultural Research Laboratory. It was dark, nobody was around, and that felt rather comfortable. Although I had traveled the North Fork route time and again since the days I was free to drive a car, many times at night, I was struck by the darkness and the stars.


  1. You have just answered my questions. Thank you. I have 3 garlic plants all looking wonky and curly like this. Now I know what to look for and I shall dig them out in the morning. Is there anything organic you know of I can use to kill these maggots in the garden bed?

    1. Nope, nothing. But there are several reasons why a garlic plant will yellow and curl. You'll have to investigate, closely


If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...