Harvesting Garlic

Living on the Earth, July 25, 1997: Harvesting Garlic 

We harvested our garlic this week.  Over a three day period, between rainstorms,
Suzanne and I pulled up five long beds full of these sturdy plants with strapy
blue green leaves, as mockingbirds sang in a nearby apple tree.  It was
enjoyable work.  The fluffy soil allowed the bulbs to be lifted out easily,
their purple and white beauty showing through the dirt.  After shaking and
brushing off the dark, well-composted soil that was clinging to the roots, we
put the garlic in bushel baskets.  A nearly intoxicating aroma surrounded us.

By the time we were done, we had hundreds of pounds of garlic.  We are very
pleased with the quantity and quality of this year's crop. 

Harvest time for garlic is critical.  Each of the long leaves which wraps around
the stem at its base, becomes a wrapper for the bulb of garlic under the soil.
The number of green leaves remaining on the plant indicates how many layers
remain on the bulb.  If all the leaves dry up while the plant is in the soil,
all the wrappers disappear.  If they dry after harvest, however, each one leaves
another tough layer of protection around the bulb.  Three to five bulb wrappers
are suggested for best storage, and, since a wrapper or two may be lost in
harvesting and cleaning, we harvest when there are about six leaves remaining on
most of the plants.  The garlic should stay in the ground as long as possible,
but if too many layers of wrapper dry up before harvest, the spaces between the
cloves are open to invasion by soil bacteria and fungi, which can cause rot.  

It is important to get the freshly-picked bulbs into the shade immediately and
to hang them in an airy place so they dry quickly and evenly.

Our garlic now hangs from the rafters in the breezeway, tied in bundles of ten
bulbs.  It will be just fine there until fall, when we plant cloves from the
medium-sized bulbs. What's left we store in a dry place where it won't freeze
during the winter.  Sometimes we cut off the tops and sometimes we don't.
Garlic keeps very well when it's been harvested at the right time and cured
properly.  Given these conditions, it will store nearly a whole year.  

Garlic is a very easy crop to grow.  We stuck cloves from last year's harvest
into fertile garden beds in late October and mulched them thickly with hay.
During the winter the cloves grew strong root systems.  The hay kept most weeds
from growing, but let the young, pointed garlic leaves poke through easily this
spring.  In April and May, while we were working so hard to get other crops
established, the garlic, large and vigorous, was quite an inspiration.  In late
spring we did a bit of weeding.  In June, we snapped off the flower buds in
order to direct more energy to the bulbs below.

We eat lots of garlic because of its wonderful flavor.  It's delicious with
pasta and greens, in fresh tomato sauces, and with eggs, potatoes or beans.
We'll reserve at least seven bulbs a week for us to eat, and about half of the
harvest for planting this fall.  The rest, mostly the biggest bulbs, we'll sell
at the farmers markets where the hardneck variety has become increasingly
popular over the years.  

Garlic or <I>allium sativum,</I> is a local crop.  It adapts to the local soil,
and does well when it is replanted in the same space in the garden for several
years.  For best results, it's good to plant garlic which originates in your
region.  We started with bulbs from New York State, and have replanted this
strain here for six years.  

For at least 10,000 years, humans have enjoyed garlic.  From ancient China,
Egypt and India, through Biblical times and Greek and Roman cultures, down to
the present, people have used garlic to treat a variety of illnesses including
cancer, heart disease and leprosy, as well as infected wounds and dysentery. 

Modern research shows that garlic is a powerful antibiotic, provides at least
three beneficial effects for the heart, helps eliminate lead and other toxic
heavy metals from the body, has anti-tumor properties, and is useful in treating
leprosy and AIDS.  It's our garlic's wonderful flavor, however, that keeps us
growing and eating it, and keeps our customers coming back for more.

You can grow some garlic, too.  Look for nice bulbs at a local farmers market,
hang it up until fall and then plant it when you set out other bulbs like
daffodils and tulips.  Next July you'll harvest your own and will have started
an exciting, healthful and flavorful adventure.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

(C) 1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491

Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT certified
organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban agriculture
projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT). Their collection
of essays  Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful
Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid.  These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT.
New essays are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since
November 1995 are available there.