It’s remarkable how far a clove of garlic can take you. Soon after we arrived to live near Shepherds Ground a year ago, and turned up when we could to help with the gardening and farming activities, we learnt that the garlic cycle was about to emerge into outer movement.
Bulbs that had been kept over from the previous spring’s harvest began to be broken apart into their individual cloves. Many hands set to work. We learnt about the different varieties and their particular characteristics and enjoyed experiencing their different colours and forms as the bags of planting cloves began to grow steadily in number.
Out in the paddock the soil was being cultivated, shaped into beds and the planting rows were tilled. Watering systems were being put in place. Over the coming days and weeks many thousands of cloves were laid into the earth and it wasn’t long before we started to see green garlic shoots appearing where we’d been working only a few days before.
Then the mulching began. Dropped off at the end of the beds, fresh cut by the forage harvester the mulch was carried in bundles and spread over the beds and pathways and arranged around the shoots if they’d already emerged. During the autumn and winter there was weeding and watering to do as the shoots were daily transforming into fully formed plants and what started as thousands of cloves had become a crop in a field.
During the days working in the garlic field there were always wonderful things to experience. Signs of animals, such as rabbits and wallabies, that had been visiting in the night, new insects to discover, weeds with beautiful flowers, grazing cows and calves and ewes and lambs nearby and many birds passed by in the sky.
But especially there were the conversations between those of us that were there. Over the many days. Old and young, people working and people visiting. Sharing some time. Sharing our lives.
Before we new it, spring was upon us and the garlic plants were sending up their scapes (which we learnt was the name for their flower shoots) and these needed to be removed so that the new bulbs would fill out into cloves. And we learnt how the scapes were bunched and sold in some markets. Then as the crop began to wither and brown with the emerging spring warmth it was time for harvest. And we had to be quick and get them out, lest they get stuck in wet ground.
Many hands appeared to help and soon there were trays of garlic bulbs piled high and waiting for processing. There was sorting for size and shape, trimming and cleaning, preparing for sale or keeping for seed.
Then, by way of a harvest festival, an invitation went out for people to come and make their own plaits of garlic. Instruction was given as well as encouragement to aim for the artistic by incorporating flowers and herbs into the plaits.
The festival over, Lucie and Marco began to venture out into the market-place with their bulbs in bags, in bunches and in plaits. Some of the garlic went to local outlets, some went to notable outlets in Sydney. They were always asked after they made a sale, “what else do you have?”
For Sophie and I, the opportunity to be part of it is something we feel very thankful for and we think it has been a wonderful example of how Shepherds Ground can grow out into the world. It has been a very enriching cultural experience. One which might be soon beginning all over again.
And agriculture is after all, as the name tells us, simply the “culture of the field”.