Garlic

Last fall we planted about 1/10 acre of garlic. The most labor was spent preparing the ground—tilling, building the raised beds, laying plastic and drip tape, marking spots on the plastic where the cloves would be planted. Although it took awhile, ‘popping’ the garlic heads (i.e. separating the cloves) was not too tedious. We planted a bit later than we had hoped, so it took a couple of long and uncomfortable sessions to get the cloves into the cold, damp ground.

But after that, there wasn’t much to do. We mulched the paths between the beds with sorghum pomace, to keep the weeds down. The garlic thrived during the winter. Only a couple of weeding sessions were needed this spring, with a couple of hours spent pulling weeds that had grown through the small hole in the plastic where the garlic was growing. We didn’t need to apply water until early May, and stopped watering at the end of the third week, three weeks before we planned to harvest.

Since we stopped watering it has been very, very dry here, not good for the rest of the garden but great for the garlic as it began curing in the ground. We had planted a large quantity of one variety (Spanish Roja) and a smaller quantity of another (porcelain). The Porcelain seemed to be a week ahead of the Roja, so we took the opportunity to do a practice harvest on 1/8 of the crop, spending Thursday morning taking the porcelain out, then figuring out how we would tie the bunches and hang them from the rafters in the barn. The porcelain heads were on the small side (probably the nature of the variety) but good-looking and well-formed.

We had planned for awhile to start harvesting in earnest last Monday. As Monday came around we suddenly had rain in the forecast, so everything came together perfectly—a cool and cloudy morning, plus much motivation to get the job done before the rain came. We started at 6am, stopped for breakfast and the morning milking, and the last garlic was pulled at 12:30pm. Tuesday morning Chris, Maggie, and Matthew bunched and hung the garlic while rain poured and poured and poured, 2.5 inches in all, very welcome. The Roja heads are big and beautiful.

Once the garlic has hung for about three weeks we’ll take it down, cut off the heads and roots, and store it. I won’t know until then how much we actually grew. Not everything we planted came up; there were some small stretches where perhaps only one in four of the plants grew, and there were occasional gaps elsewhere. But the garlic that grew did well; we only discarded maybe ten or fifteen plants that we pulled.

One end of the garlic plot had been planted in potatoes last year, which involved a foot-deep pile of sorghum pomace which rotted down and was then tilled in. The ground on that end was wonderful, black and soft, and the garlic plants came out with a gentle tug. The rest of the ground was much tighter, so Chris worked down the rows with a gardening fork to loosen the ground around the plants; the tops of the plants were strong enough that we could pull the plants with a good stiff tug without damaging them, and that approach had the added advantage of leaving most of the dirt behind when the plant came out.

We’ll definitely do this again. Probably we’ll hold back enough garlic for seed to plant twice as much next year. The only change we’re contemplating is switching from plastic to landscape fabric for covering the beds. Plastic is only good for one use, it is a pain to dispose of afterwards, and it is not water-permeable—the rain doesn’t get through, and you can’t water through it—which is why we had to lay drip tape for irrigation (additional expense and trouble). Landscape fabric costs about ten times as much, but it is sturdy enough to use for many years and is water-permeable. Best of all, the holes only need to be marked and made once (melted with a blowtorch) and are there for the life of the fabric.

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