Monday, August 4, 2008

The Garlic Harvest

We eat an inordinate amount of garlic in my household. Seriously. It's a good thing we both do, because if it were just one of us, the other would no doubt be knocked out by some wicked garlic breath. So last fall I decided to finally grow some. I ordered a couple pounds of seed garlic, choosing six different hardneck varieties. Hardnecks do better in cooler climates, but they don't store as well as the softneck types. Above is a picture of our garlic harvest, or most of it anyway. I've already set aside a few heads for seed stock to be planted in a few months.

I well remember planting day for the garlic bulbs last fall, because I threw my back out that morning while rummaging around in the chest freezer. It was an unseasonably warm mid-October day. By literally crawling around on my hands and knees, I got the garlic into the six rows of prepared earth, and then hobbled off to bed, and my heating pad, for a week. I hate throwing my back out. Anyway...the garlic repaid my grit by being a remarkably trouble-free plant. All I did was mulch the ground heavily with leaves once I was up and about. After that I completely ignored the beds until spring.

The bulbs sent up a few inches' worth of green shoots before winter began in earnest. The little shoots never seemed to mind the cold and snow. They looked like little above-ground monitoring stations for the underground bunkers below. By May the shoots were tall and had started to form scapes, which are one way garlic can reproduce. The other is through division of the bulbs, just as daffodils and tulips do. The green scapes are edible when they first form, so I cut a few to add to stir-fries. It's wonderful early season garden produce - always welcome after a winter light on fresh green things. As the scapes continue to grow and develop, they get tougher and less toothsome.

Harvesting went pretty well, and was easily accomplished with a pitchfork and some patience. Garlic requires very gentle handling during harvest as it can bruise very easily, which will promote early spoilage. Then the garlic needs to be hung up to "cure" in a shaded and well-ventilated area for a few weeks. My records aren't exact, but I think I got about 11 pounds of garlic from 2 pounds of planting stock. Not bad for a first effort!

It's incredibly satisfying to look at my cured and trimmed garlic and know that I'm well stocked, for the next couple of months anyway. What was a little hard to do though was to set aside part of my harvest as planting stock for this fall. It was especially hard because I know I have to choose the largest and best heads of garlic to re-plant. It's painful to "give up" such beautiful, heavy heads of garlic. My husband joked about breaking in to the seed garlic stash when we've eaten up the rest of it, but I gave him the hairy eyeball. That seed garlic is sacrosanct! The original planting stock order didn't come cheap. With shipping, it came to around $30, if I recall correctly. The frugal blackbelt in me resolved that I would make that $30 serve indefinitely by never buying garlic seed stock again.

So I decided that I would plant a few more bulbs of each variety than I did last year. That way we'll have a few more heads of garlic in our harvest next year. And then I'll do it again next year, planting more and more garlic each year while still having plenty to eat. Keeping records on garden stuff hasn't yet developed into anything like a strong suit for me. But I'm planning to record the date that we run out of our homegrown garlic. I hope with this plan to progressively expand our garlic planting that we can push that "out of garlic" date back a little farther each year. Given that we're growing hardneck varieties that don't keep as well as some, we'll probably never make it all the way through the year without needing to buy some garlic. But we can certainly aim to grow as much as we can eat before it spoils on us. When we reach that point, there's always garlic powder as an option.

I wish that I had tried my hand at growing garlic sooner. It takes up relatively little space in the garden. Had I known how readily it grows and how little care it needs, I would have been growing it for many years. If you have a garlic habit to feed and a few square feet of earth, why not give garlic a try?

Related posts:

The Promise of Garlic
The Limits of Garlic

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