The subtle shade of the clouds

A glass vase of garlic flowers on a wooden table with a grey wooden fence in the background

Garlic takes six to seven months to grow.

I’m still working it out.

I planted my garlic too late.

Not the farm garlic though.

They’ve had practice.

Over a thousand bulbs this year, maybe more.

Tens of thousands of cloves.

Garlic is the biggest harvest of the year.

By funds too.

$39 a kilo at some local markets.

Worth it.

It’s the best garlic I’ve ever had.

Did you know garlic grows flowers too?

An explosion of purple at the top.

That’s how you know they’re ready.

You can eat the flowers too.

They taste like garlic.

The flowers grow out of the garlic on a tall limb called a scape.

We were cutting the stalks off the bulbs and I was stashing the scapes.

I wanted a bunch of garlic flowers to give to my girlfriend.

They’ll last forever if you put them in a nice vase.

Watch them dry out and change colour over the months.

We’d sort the garlic into small, medium and large.

Any damaged ones go in the small too.

The small get given away or used in cooking.

The medium get sold.

And the large get replanted.

Once the garlic gets cut, it needs to be hung and dried.

That’s the kind of garlic you find in the store.

Harvested plus a month or so of drying.

There were plenty of hands so it didn’t take long.

Conversation starts between new faces.

Where do you live?

What do you do when you’re not on the farm?

I met a guy who used to work on boats in New Zealand.

Spent three years on the same boat working with a crew of 10.

He told me working on boats is mostly sailing between ports for repairs and maintenance.

Another woman just started in a new band.

She went to Japan with her partner and got a bunch of inspiration for new songs.

And just had her eleventh tick for the year, a parasitic arachnid that lives on the blood of mammals, removed from the flesh of her ear.

I’ve had them all over my body, she said.

They’re everywhere out here.

She lives in a concrete boat on the edge of the farm. Not on the water though. On the land.

Wow, I said.

Yeah, my partner had to yank it out, I thought he was going to pull my ear off.

They burrow down with their teeth and legs and the legs have small hooks on them and they get stuck in the skin.

Watch out if you don’t get the head out, that’s where all the poison is, said the boat man.

Yeah, they kill dogs if you don’t find them.

Wow, I said, I’ve never had a tick.

They’re not too bad if you know what to do with them, you get used to it, she said.

My natural environment is an air conditioned room in front of a computer screen.

And here this lady was talking about ticks, a flesh eating parasitic arachnid, as if they were a hobby.


The garlic had to come out a couple of days early because of the rain.

When we arrived, the air was cool.

Not for long.

Sun beams split the clouds and turned up the humidity, thick enough to be a shirt.

We finished cutting up the garlic and hanging it on the drying racks.

Time for the real work said the farm owner.

Down on the fields we moved the tyres that weigh down the tarp cover and then pulled the tarp cover up.

A couple big rats ran for their lives.

Derek! Shouted the farm owner.

Derek’s the big dog on the farm.

And he loves hunting rats.

We waited for a moment and looked around waiting for a bounding beast.

But the beast never came.

Last I saw he was taking a nap up the hill, I said.

Smart, said the farm owner.

Under the tarp cover steamed the sawdust bodies of old mushroom substrate.

One of the best kinds of compost.

A soft thin layer on top of the harder soil.

We’ll scoop up the soft top layer and move it down to the sweet pea, said the farm owner.

There were four of us.

We parked our wheelbarrows next to the soft layer and started shovelling.

The soft layer was soft so it wasn’t hard to shovel.

The human body is like a crane, designed to pick things up and move them.

A dozen shovels would nearly fill your barrow.

You could get a real rhythm going.

And we did.

Talking, shovelling, wheeling, dumping, spreading, careful not to damage the smaller plants.

What’s this? I asked.

That’s sweet potato, said the farm owner.

The trick is to get a bunch of different things growing all around each other, he said.

They create a system and help each other.

When one crop gets harvested and dies off, its remains feed the next.

Talk, shovel, wheel, dump, spread, watch out for the smaller plants.

Six barrows in and the heat was really rolling.

Moisture from the ground finding its way to our bodies.

Sweat is like oil for a big gear.

It makes you want to go faster.

Shovel, wheel, a little grunt and dump and spread.

Walking back to the pile and a heap of clouds slid in front of the sun.

Sweet Christ, some shade.

When I was in Mexico, the locals would speak of the shade as a God, said the farm owner, some of their mythical stories would have the shade as the saviour.

I’d believe them, I said.

It felt like the long blonde hair of an angel was resting on my shoulders.

I looked up to the great sky and thought give me 10 seconds of shade every hour and I could do this all day.

Then the shade went away and the sun came back out.

And fair’s fair.

So I started shovelling again.