Garlic Harvesting 2008

I recently stayed away at a four day Dance Camp. Not getting many hours of sleep (alright, two, the last night), I came home in a daze and slept five hours straight from the afternoon until dark. When I forced myself out of bed to do my nightly chores, someone in my family who shall remain nameless told me I looked like a zombie. Perhaps that was the case, since I was able to fall asleep again that night with little trouble.

The next morning, after slamming my hand down on the snooze button many times, and then ultimately turning my alarm clock off, I trudged to the barn to help with the garlic harvest, late and bedraggled after the difficult task of milking Mandy.

I came upon the whole crew of interns, family and friends working steadily on an enormous pile of freshly pulled garlic. The garlic was neatly stacked on a long, wide hay rack. Courtney, Mike, Rebekah, Daniel and our new intern, Jesse, were immersed in counting up medium-sized garlic into mounds of twenty, then lining the tops up.

When finished with a pile, they would lug the garlic to Daddy and Asa, who had the finger-paining job of using faded orange twine to tie the tops together, using loops and knots so tight that it was virtually impossible to break. After tying one group of garlic together, they tied another group to that same string, so that in the end they would have ten groups cascading down, all tied on the same string. This string of 10 garlic bunches, 200 garlic plants, was taken over to Matt who hung it from the ceiling of the barn to dry there all season. These strings of garlic will be sold later in the year as individual garlic heads as well as garlic braids hand-styled exclusively by Daddy.

This was the scene I came upon when I walked, still dreaming, into the red and white barn, huge enough to house chickens, goats, tons of hay bales, and storage rooms all at once. But before I had even lifted my body off my bed that morning, the crew had done much more.

In the Bottom Field, faced with never-ending beds of garlic, garlic, and more garlic, they had carefully hand-pulled the soft-neck garlic so as not to break the delicate stems. After pulling for hours on end, they had set the garlic in the bed of the truck to be carried up to the barn. Using expert knowledge, the crew had divided every last garlic into three piles according to size: huge bulbs–used for next year’s seed, tiny bulbs, and then everything else that was neither tiny nor huge. Then, viola, here everyone was, counting, tying, and carrying.

Before I could fall asleep on the spot, Daddy told me to start counting the tiny bulbs into piles of fifty. “Whoa, these look like medium bulbs!” he said to me in Japanese as he examined the pile. He followed up that statement by informing the whole crew of the size problem. Just then, Kazami appeared with another pile of what were supposed to be tiny bulbs. Daddy looked down at the pile, then up at Kazami. “It seems we have found the culprit! It is Kazami!” he exclaimed, while Kazami sputtered excuses.

Later, after I re-sorted the pile into big and little bulbs, I figured out that Kazami’s ‘excuses’ might have been the truth. The big garlic I had separated were too many to be done by just Kazami. It seems Kazami was not the only culprit, but one of many, that just happened to be caught red-handed.

Soon, the last soft-neck group was tied and carried to be hung up. Thousands of garlic bulbs now hung from the rafters. We were done!

But only with the soft neck variety. In the Bottom Field, the hard necks waited with glee for their time to come.

Goat Milking Diaries

Every morning, I open my eyes to the high-pitched beeping of my alarm clock. On a good day, reaching out my hand to turn it off forces my brain to operate, so I jump out of bed as quickly as possible, in a lame attempt to jumpstart my body.

Also every morning, I grab an empty re-used yogurt container and sleepwalk my way through the hazy morning air and into the fenced-in area housing our lovable goats and chickens. I grab a small white bucket and fill it with corn, oats and wheat. As I open the door to the pen, I swish the feed around with my hand. The door latches shut behind me.

A female black goat with white fur splattered randomly across her body waits for me in the goat shed. Right beside her is a brown-coated female goat, with a patch of white fur on her forehead resembling a star. Mandy, the black goat, had quadruplets in the early spring. I milk her every morning. Star, the brown goat, is pregnant. I will start to milk her after she gives birth, which, judging by the size of her belly, will be soon.

I open the shed door and Mandy trots down the ramp to get milked. I set down the bucket of feed to get my hands free, and quickly close the shed door to trap Star inside, much to Star’s displeasure. She brought this on herself, though, because of her immense loving of all things edible, especially grain. She would always steal feed out of Mandy’s bucket while I was busy milking her, causing Mandy to stomp her feet in annoyance. Disaster would sometimes ensue as Mandy’s feet came dangerously close to smacking the milk-filled container– and often would, spilling milk all over. After a couple exasperating times of this scenario, I decided to get smart with Star and keep her locked in the goat shed where she could do no harm while I am busy milking Mandy.

Star is now safely out of the way, but Mandy is gobbling up grain at such an alarming pace that I am afraid none will be left to distract her while I’m milking. I try to pull the bucket away from her, but knowing this routine, she sticks her head into the bucket further. “Mandy!” I scold with a grunt, grabbing her collar and dragging, with great difficulty, her stubborn face out of the bucket. Finally she lets up. Grateful for this opportunity, I snatch the feed and put it on the milk stand. Thankfully, Mandy jumps up on the stand without hesitation. I breathe a sigh of relief and get to work.

The quadruplets wail without so much as a breath from inside their pen while my hands milk as fast as they can move. I put the baby goats in their pen each night so that they will not drink all of Mandy’s milk. Even though they are able to swallow grain and grass now, it seems that nothing can compare to their mother’s milk.

One of my nightly chores is to put the quadruplets in their pen. Star’s naughtiness comes into play here as well, since when she sees the bucket of grain- -meant to lure the baby goats into the pen– the bucket lures her too. She eagerly hoists herself up into the cramped quarters, while I dump the grain into the metal holder. Suddenly I find myself stuck in the tiny pen with one huge goat and four little ones milling about. To make it worse, I am bent over, since the low ceiling makes it impossible to stand up. In this position I plow my way out, at the same time lurching Star forward toward the pen door and out into the open. I frantically push Star out of the way so that I can latch the pen doors shut before Star or the baby goats can think twice. Then I stand there, panting a little, and wonder how in the world putting fours little goats in a pen could take so much mental, emotional, and physical work. Star stands near me, no doubt muttering to Mandy, “I will get your grain in the morning.”

My yogurt container is almost full with fresh bubbly goat milk, and apparently Mandy has finished her grain, because she is starting to fidget in the stand and cries to be let off. “Okay, okay. We’re done.” I say to her, in mock surrender. I grant her wish and let her off the milk stand. Next I set my milk container down so that I can unlock the shed door. Star stares me down from inside, questioning with her piercing eyes, “How dare you fool me into not getting my grain!?” I pat her on the head, right on her pearly white star, “That’s life, Star. I’m sorry.”

The baby goats come scrambling out when I open the pen door. They are full of pent up energy, as usual, and run out to play and to explore. The chickens squawk from the chicken shed, calling Kazami to come let them out, let them out.

As I shut the fence door and make my way to the house and then down to the fields to work, I realize that another day has just begun.