Sunday, July 24, 2011

Garlic Harvest

When I first put the garlic into the ground last fall, I didn't know when you are supposed to pull it out. My one previous attempt to grow garlic may or may not have made it to harvest time - we couldn't very well bring it cross-country from Minnesota. So, like most of this gardening stuff, I've had a bit of learning to do.

Cutting the scapes a few weeks back was important, because that tells the plant to not bother putting energy into the flower, and instead direct it into growing the bulb. A few times over the last couple weeks I've pulled the dirt away from one or two plants so that I could gauge the size of the bulbs, and they have definitely been getting bigger.

The next milestone in the growing was when the lower leaves of each plant started to brown and die off. Depending on who you read, after the bottom-most five or six leaves have died off, it is time to pull them. Letting things go much longer risks having the bulbs split open underground, at which point it can be difficult to 1) harvest them without breaking them and 2) store them for more than few weeks without spoiling. Having an intact skin around the whole head is important for storage.

I have also been told to avoid watering them in the last week or two prior to harvest - this can help them pre-cure in the ground and reduces the risk of having them split open. This I couldn't do, because the garlic is intermixed with other plants, and all those others have been in desperate need of watering during this scorcher of a week.

All this lead up to today: harvest day!

I quickly abandoned my small trowel and stuck to excavating with my hands. I didn't want to risk gouging anything!

After exposing the top of the bulb, I undercut a bit with my fingers, grab the neck, and slowly pull. The roots eventually give way, bringing a clump of dirt with them. Some shaking follows to clean the roots and return the soil to the ground.

Look! A double!

The total haul was nearly 20 heads large and small. I won't know for a while if the heads are divided into a handful of large cloves (good for cooking) or many small cloves (pain in the ass to peel!) until I start using them.

After a bit more cleaning I bundled the necks and leaves with twine and hung them in the garage. That's a nice hot and dry place where they can cure for a few weeks - turning the tough outer skin to paper, and sealing the delicious cloves inside. With nay luck, after they've cured, they should keep through the end of the year. I'll probably use the cloves from the largest head or two for planting next year's crop.

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