This Week on the Farm 7/7
I was incorrect last week when I said it was the last week of radishes; this week is the last week of radishes. We had enough radishes remaining in the field to go in everyone’s boxes and we didn’t want them to go to waste. Check out our Facebook page for a radish top soup recipe that one of our members shared, it looks very tasty! My sister told me that they have pickled some of their radishes and used them in fancy drinks in place of olives, so I ran with that idea and included a quick pickle recipe on this week’s newsletter. If you try the recipe, let us know what you think!
We hope you all had an enjoyable, relaxing 4th of July. My family came down to the farm and helped us harvest all of our garlic. It took most of the day, but it is now curing happily in our barn. Garlic is one of my favorite crops to grow. I love it so much I bought an entire book on how to grow/harvest/store garlic. This was our best garlic crop that we have grown since we started farming, and all of the work we did last fall sure paid off.
Last October, three days before our son was born, we planted our garlic. I spent an entire day in our kitchen popping garlic cloves and sorting out the small cloves from the large cloves. It was very uncomfortable since I was very pregnant at the time, but I wasn’t about to crawl on the ground outside planting the garlic, so I took over the job of popping the cloves. While I popped the cloves, Tyler tilled the field with our 3 pt rototiller and then took a pull behind spreader (like the ones you use to spread grass seed) and spread 600 pounds of composted chicken manure.
Once all of the cloves were ready, Tyler and our crew went out and planted the cloves every 4 to 6 inches in a three row block. We ended up with two blocks of garlic for a total of six rows . Each row was approximately 350’ long. This was about three times the amount of garlic we planted the year before. We planted so much because we wanted to make sure that we could put not only cured garlic, but also green garlic, and garlic scapes in our CSA boxes.
About a week after we planted the garlic, my father came down to the farm and helped Tyler spread straw over the entire area. Some farms don’t use a mulch to protect their garlic from frost heaving damage, but it was a significant investment and we didn’t want to lose any to winter kill.
This spring as soon as the garlic was about an inch tall we raked all of the straw off of the rows. In previous years we have had problems with the mulch bringing in a lot of grass seed that then germinates and causes high weed pressure. The straw mulch also prevents us from being able to weed with our wheel hoe and stirrup hoes. By removing the straw early in the spring, we removed it when it still small enough that we could easily rake over the bed without damaging any plants, and it gave us access to the soil when the first weeds of spring emerged. It is a lot easier to control weeds when they are tiny, so by having access when they emerge, you can weed significantly faster than if you allow the weeds to get bigger.
The downside of removing the straw when we did was that it removed our frost protection. Garlic is hardy. It can survive down to temps around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but this spring the weather people were calling for two nights in a row where temps could get into the teens. We didn’t want anything to hurt our garlic, so we went out and set up hoops and covered the whole area with a frost blanket. The frost blanket worked really well and we didn’t have any damage, even though it got down to 17 degrees Fahrenheit the first night and 23 degrees Fahrenheit the second night.
Once the danger of the super cold nights passed, we removed the frost blanket, put some more chickity doo doo on the plants, weeded it twice, and let it do its thing. Even with the lack of rain early and then the deluge later in June, the garlic did very well. So well in fact that the garlic harvest window snuck up on us faster than we had anticipated!
Some farms wait until a certain percentage of leaves have turned brown, some even wait until the whole plant is brown, but we harvest our garlic when it is still mostly green. The reason for this is that green leaves indicate the number of intact wrappers. We want our garlic to have multiple wrappers so that it stores well for our members. When we went out to the field last Wednesday, we knew that we needed to get the garlic in before the week was out.
Harvesting the garlic is a group effort. Ideally you have at least three people, each with a different task. The more people you have, however, the easier it becomes.
When we harvest, one person is the leader and has a potato fork. This person loosens the soil around the garlic, but they stay far enough away from the stem that they don’t stab the garlic bulb. Another person comes along behind and pulls the garlic out of the soil. They try to knock as much of the soil off of the roots as possible and collect the garlic into bundles of ten. A third person takes the bundles and ties them with bailer twine. The garlic is then placed in our truck, which has shade cloth hung to shade the bulbs from direct sunlight.
Once a variety has been harvested we bring the whole truck back the barn and hang the bundles up to dry. These will cure for two to three weeks. Once the bulbs have cured we trim the roots and stems, clean the outer most wrappers off to have a clean surface, and then grade them by size. The largest bulbs we save as seed garlic for next year, but the rest goes to our members.