Sunday, June 21, 2009

Salvaging the Garlic

I had not planned to spend this morning salvaging what I could of my garlic crop. The month of June has simply hammered us with rain. We've had nearly an inch of rain in the last 24 hours, and as of yesterday we were at 230% of our average monthly rainfall-to-date. It's supposed to rain again today, and more rain is predicted for Wednesday. There's no sun in the forecast. I've put up with this crazy weather without complaint for more than two weeks now. But I am getting to the point where I simply cannot believe that the rain continues. It's surreal. We have mushrooms growing all over our lawn. I mean, it has to end sometime, doesn't it?

Might be hard to see the yellowed tips in this image, but they're there. Click to biggify.

Saturday evening was my tip off that something was not right with the garlic plants. The leaves of garlic are supposed to dry out and wither sequentially from the oldest, outermost leaves to the youngest, innermost leaves; in other words, from the ground up. When I went to shut the hens in for the night, I could see that the tips of the highest leaves were yellowed and wilted. This was not good news. Each leaf on a garlic plant corresponds to one papery layer around the bulb. If the leaves and papery layers rot, the bulb is left naked in the ground and subject to all sorts of fungal infections and other unpleasantness. It also means that even if the bulb makes it out of the ground, it will have no protection during storage. In garlic, you want plenty of papery layers around the bulb.

I chose one of the worst looking plants to dig up, to see how bad it looked. It was small, but it mostly looked alright. The outermost layer on the bulb was definitely a loss, but the other ones might make it if I harvested now and managed to dry the bulbs properly. Not all that easy given our 100% humidity levels. It was a tough call, and I wished I had more years of growing experience to draw on. (Experience is something you get after you need it.) Clearly the plants were distressed, but not yet badly damaged. If I left them in the ground they might survive and get to full size. Or they might rot and the crop might fail entirely. The forecast is definitely not in our favor. I decided to cut my losses, and get four of the six varieties out of the ground immediately. My husband helped with the harvest, and we left the two varieties in place that seem the least affected. It drizzled while we worked.

Right now, I have some garlic bulbs, even if they are much smaller than I'd like them to be at harvest. Our clay soil is completely saturated with water, though the uppermost layers have been well enriched with compost. Given the ongoing water torture that has been June in these parts, I was afraid these four varieties would yield nothing if I put off the harvest. I'm not happy about this. But that's how gardening works. I'll watch and wait with the other two varieties. I'm just glad this isn't my livelihood. While I would resent it hugely, I could afford to buy my garlic. Losing this crop would suck, but it would only mean losing my homegrown supply and my seed stock for this fall. Farmers raising garlic in my area could be in real trouble. Not that this is a major garlic producing area. And of course, they might also have taken more elaborate measures to ensure drainage in particularly wet years.

It's going to be even tougher this year to set aside the best bulbs for planting stock. Most of the bulbs are small now and will only get smaller as they dry down. The few decent sized bulbs are all going to have to be replanted in October. Looks like we'll be using tiny bulbs of garlic this year.

The garlic, set out to dry in our garage. You can see some of the yellow leaf tips a little better here.

For the most part, other plants in the garden seem to be holding their own. But the tips of a few potato leaves are ever so slightly turning yellow. Another root crop in trouble. I hope they make it. I planted ten pounds altogether of four different varieties. The basil, eggplant, and peppers seem to be having the next worst time of things. The basil and eggplant especially are simply not growing. The peppers look pale and small although a few have tiny little peppers on them already. They all need some hot, dry, scorching days to make them happy. I don't know when we'll have any of those. So far, the tomatoes don't seem to mind the rain, and the little okra seedlings seem to be okay, even though they are now in the shade (or would be if there were any sun) of some mushrooms growing in the wood chip mulch all around them. The melons and squash are very small, but they seem to be surviving. The raised mounds they're planted in probably help. The beans, popcorn, lettuce and spinach haven't minded the cool damp at all, so far as I can tell. The parsnips seem to be loving the rain from what the leaves are telling me.

More garlic posts
The Promise of Garlic
Garlic Harvest
The Limits of Garlic


el said...

It's definitely a wet year: I am in a somewhat similar situation as you, Kate, with my onions. They can tough it out a little easier than garlic can, though.

Garlic is one of the things I plan on trading, though: I've had a pretty good (indoor) year. The stuff that keeps the best for me never gets terribly large though; it's a softneck variety. I know you had said you'd had problems with things sprouting early on you. I still have stuff from last year that is sprout-free.

Minni Mum said...

Noooo, not the garlic! I empathise, both with the small garlic bulbs (my issue last year was it was too hot!) and the rain. We have sun shining today for the first time in weeks! But more rain is forecast so I'd better get my dose of vitamin D today while I can LOL.

Fingers crossed for you that the potatoes and the rest of the garlic hold up OK for you :-)

Cheers, Julie

Anonymous said...

here's my question about garlic. right now it's hitting the 100's at the highest during the day with no relief in sight. do i have to wait for cooler weather to start garlic or can i grow it indoors? i've not ever grown it before and i'm itching to try.

Kate said...

El, you mean you would trade garlic seed stock? All my varieties are hardneck, which is probably why they started sprouting in early winter. I'm told they have more intense flavors, but poorer keeping qualities. I am seriously considering adding a softneck variety or two. If you can grow them in Michigan, we ought to be able to grow them here. Or do you grown them all in the greenhouse? I chose all hardnecks because they're well suited to cold winter climates

Julie, thanks. I know what you mean about making vitamin D while the sun shines!

Blonde, so far as I know, garlic is best planted in the fall. Gardeners in some areas can get away with a spring planting, but this is generally not considered ideal. So I would advise you to place an order with a good seed company now for planting in the fall. But I don't claim to be an expert. You could always ask the Master Gardeners at your county's Extension Office. They would know.

el said...

Yup on the trade and yup in the greenhouse HOWEVER before last year I always grew them outside. The softnecks do keep a lot longer. And I think some of the hardnecks taste pretty good too but that's not reason enough to grow them exclusively IMHO. But yeah, the softnecks can be small-ish; the best trick for that is spacing them really widely and making sure they get enough sun and compost. And they harvest a lot sooner than the hardnecks; it's a win-win if you ask me. I will eventually be posting about what I have to trade so stay tuned!

Sandy said...

You took my sentiments about the rain right out of my mouth! AND my concerns for my garden & honey bees. I like the reflector idea ... new to me! My garlic is turning a bit brown on the lower leaves, so I'm leaving them for now ... but it has had me concerned ... time WILL tell. Sandy

Kate said...

I'll stay tuned, El. If you have softneck garlic to trade, and if I have anything you want, please count me in.

Sandy, I didn't know that too much rain was bad for honeybees as well. So much to learn! I hope your garlic makes it. At least it sounds as though the browning leaves are starting in the right sequence. Good luck!