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The Village Idiot

The tiller won't till anymore

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(12/2011) Wandaís planting garlic cloves in Bed Two while I fire up the newer rototiller to rechurn Bed One. As she straddles a 30 foot row and bends to poke the cloves 2 inches deep into the soil I wince in sympathy. My back aches from having bent to scratch a series of 18-inch rows across the long row as guides for where I sprinkle the bulb fertilizer, which Wanda uses as a guide to plant. Iíll follow with the rake, covering everything. Bed Two will hold over 600 cloves.

I goose the tillerís throttle to "rabbit" (since few people read English these days the manufacturer uses pictures to show us where we are) and engage the tines. The tiller hesitates, not a good sign. Into the bed we go and stop. Crap! The thing must have a drive belt slipping, or the cable that tells the tiller I want to till is stretched and I donít have tools to adjust it.

Wanda looks up at my not doing anything, wondering what excuse I have for goofing off this time.

"Tiller wonít till." I yell.

"Go home and get the old one." She yells back.

I mutter some vulgar words, drag the "new" tiller out of the bed and shut it off. Fortunately, weíre at my cousinís farmett, only a mile from home. It doesnít take me long to "get the old one". I load the tiller into the van by myself, gasping at the pain in my lower back, and return to the garlic beds. The tiller unloads easily as I donít have to lift it, but it doesnít fire on the first ten pulls of the starter cord, or the next five. Just as Iím about to engage in some serious cursing it coughs to life. The old tiller has the words "fast", "slow" and "stop" written on it so I guess Iím lucky to have learned to read a bit of English?

Bed One was churned a few days earlier. Retilling it fluffs the soil enough to make the row raising easier. I finish quickly, tilling a row, then raking. By the end of the third row Iím shaking, arms from raking and legs from holding the tiller in the row, rocks cause it to bounce about. As I have no chest pain things are going well.

Wanda straightens up from a row. My back hurts watching her bend so low as she moves slowly along. "I need a marker and more garlic."

I hand her the two sticks we mark the end of a cultivar planting with and tell her we donít have any more garlic.

"Well, go home and get some."

Sighing, I hobble back to the van and drive to Emmitsburg to fetch the double be Díed garlic. My fingers ache at the sight of the little mesh bags hanging from their rack. Each clove reminds me of having "popped" it from its bulb. Not a big deal when I need a couple or three cloves, but a growing pain as Iíve finished the 600th clove and have 800 more to go! And that isnít counting all the small cloves I cull from the collection. Those I have to peel and cut up for the dehydrator. I am not comforted by the thought that weíre only planting 1,400 cloves this year and Mardaís had her boys plant 28,000!

Back at Bed Two, Wanda is eyeing Bed One. I hand her the garlic.

"Letís plant Bed One while weíre at it."

I look around for the sun and thank the gods itís low on the mountain. I take up my little row scratching stick and begin marking the planting rows three or four inches apart. As I finish the last row, gasping with pain and muttering curses between gasps, I straighten and nearly fall down.

"Oh darn. I donít have enough light to see what Iím doing." Wanda stands there as if she doesnít have a back to feel pain with! She does mention how bad her knees hurt so Iím not suffering alone over this planting. My gardening books tell me garlic sprang from the first of the Devilís footprints when it followed Adam and Eve from Eden. Onion, supposedly, sprang from its second step. Judeo-Xian mythology is interesting, occasionally. I could add the Devil stepped on my back somewhere along the way.

Home we go where I collapse before the computer and call the Mad One to whine about how much I hurt. I can always get a bit of practical advice from the Bulgarian.

"Oh stop it! You whine like a woman. What do you have to do tomorrow, watch Wanda plant the last of the garlic, then you do nothing until spring? Shut up and behave like a man!"

Well, that made me feel better so I fire an email off to the Texan who at least sympathizes with the fact Iím out of wine and mead. She reminds me she has 2,500 cloves to plant and probably will do most of the planting without help. I should suck it up, be a man.

As Wanda confirms those female opinions and advice, I crawl into bed and whimper myself to sleep.

Next day, Wanda locks the factory door around 2:30. Iím waiting for her with 20-pounds of fertilizer and about 650 cloves. We go to the garden without her stopping to catch her breath. "If we go home and I sit down, I wont get up until itís time for bed."

We carry everything to the garden. I start putting fertilizer down while she looks over the bags of garlic, calculating which cultivar sheíll plant where. She begins making the garden map as I straighten from the first row and trash all her plans. I want a particular cultivar at the top of the bed as the ground is higher there and drains better. The best-flavored or best growing cultivars should be in the best sections of the garden. She growls something, scribbles on her map, starts over again. By the time Iíve fertilized the third row Iíve changed her mind at least four more times. I think sheís relieved when my cousin walks over from the house to see how things are going. While Iím talking to him she can plant without interruption, mostly.

Wanda straightens as the last clove goes in the ground. I dread the words she speaks. "Iím out of garlic and we have room for about 100 more. You have a few cultivars at home we havenít planted. Whatís wrong with them?"

Marda grows them every year? My fingers hurt from popping cloves? We need something to eat besides culls? Iím tired? Iím sick of garlic?

"Iíll pop them if youíll treat them with the preplanting solutions. I want to finish planting this bed." (Sheíll learn some of my pain. Next year weíll wear gloves while popping cloves.)

Sighing, I help gather the paper tags, the mesh bags, the fertilizer and head home. I can walk without wobbling. If the gods smile on us, weíll have garlic come July.

Saturday, November 12, 2011, one thousand three hundred sixty cloves are safely in the ground.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.