The garlic is hanging in the barn high drive once again. It looks like a good crop this year. I never take it for granted that the garlic will be fine. I always worry a little, check the bulbs over the summer, and wonder if the leek moths or the heat or the lack of water and the weeds will negatively affect the growth of the plants. I had a nice crew of a few friends and family this year to help with the harvest. We were mindful of COVID-19 precautions and kept our distances but were still able to enjoy many conversations over the four days of harvesting our garlic. It was hot and the sun was strong so we worked shorter days and pulled the garlic out a few rows at a time. This method gives the garlic a chance to air dry each day before more is hung on sticks stretching across the high drive. Harvesting our garlic by hand is a big job with many steps but it can be one of the most enjoyable jobs of the summer for me.
Summer Growing 2020
I have monitored for leek moths, for three or four years, so that I can respond with a spray if needed. I have not used it yet because I really don’t want to spray unless I have to. It is in a jar in my cellar storage cabinet as an insurance policy just in case I need it.
Leek moths are a relatively new pest in this area of Vermont. They are travelling from west to east. They feed on leeks, garlic and onion crops. The moths, which have two to three flights a season, lay their eggs on the scapes and upper leaves of the plant and the hatching larvae eat their way down the stalk. This ruins the bulbs for storage. The bulbs are still edible but they will not store well because the culprit eats it’s way out of the bulb and it leaves a hole at the bottom by the roots. It a hassle to think that after all these years of saying garlic is pest free there is now a caveat: Pest free except for leek moths! There are some organically acceptable ways to combat the moths if they become a problem but I believe working to improve the soil to grow strong plants is the best defense. I liken it to a healthy immune system in humans and animals.
This year when we picked scapes in early July we noticed a few damaged stalks and scapes. There were not many and this was a relief to me. We picked and separated the scapes and pulled the bulbs and destroyed them if the stalk or scape showed any damage. There is information about leek moth research here. https://www.uvm.edu/agroecology/vepart-publishes-new-research-brief/
It was very hot and dry here in East Hardwick this June and July. I do not irrigate the field. Instead, I rely on the depth of the bulb with the soil cover and the mulch to keep the plant cooler and hydrated. Usually, the mulch is also helpful for keeping weeds under control. This summer I was surprised by the number of weeds that seemed to grow overnight on the edges of the beds even without a lot of water to drink. Every year I do the best that I can to keep the weeds at bay and every year I think that I could have done a better job! This year was no different. It is a good thing that garlic is a resilient plant.
I think that the bulb size is slightly smaller this year than last year. I am happy with the bulbs. I think that the environmental factors are one reason for the difference but there is also a second reason that was intentional. Last fall, I deliberately chose to plant more of my mid size bulbs with five cloves per bulb to get my overall crop to have a larger percentage of bulbs with more cloves.
The last few seasons our garlic has been getting bigger and bigger with more three clove bulbs. Many have had one giant clove on one side with two cloves in the other. This means less bulbs per pound. Last year, I weighed out many orders at 6 bulbs per pound with only 20-24 cloves total and that seemed like it was a good indicator for a small change. Many of the customers that I have spoken to are looking for more plants per bulb. The size is important to them but so is the number of plants per pound.
It was a good time to concentrate on more cloves per bulb in my selection process not just giant sized bulbs. So I have worked towards a happy medium in the 2020 bulbs. They are still on the larger side 2+ inches in diameter, but most bulbs we harvested seem to have 4-5 cloves each. The size of the cloves is still almost the same overall. I will continue to concentrate on both size and number in the years to come to keep a good balance and high quality.
Green Manure Crop
Now that the garlic is out of the ground it’s time to get the beds started for fall’s planting. We rake out the weeds, rototill the beds and seed with a green manure mix to give back to the soil that has been so good about providing a home for our garlic crop. This week we will get this job accomplished. Jim is great about helping me to get the next part of the cycle started. It takes about six weeks to grow a good green manure crop that we can till in a couple weeks ahead of planting in October. I use a basic mix with oats and field peas sometimes adding buckwheat or mustard or annual rye depending on what seems to be a good choice. I also take my yearly soil sample and send it off to the lab.
We are now taking orders on the website, you can place your order here. I am working (slowly) on a garlic growing manual that should be available soon. Like growing garlic it is a process and I am learning new computer things along the route.
Here we are at the end and the beginning of the yearly cycle of garlic. The harvest time always holds special moments in time for me. We close one year out with the pulling of the bulbs and start the next year at the same time with the hanging and curing of the bulbs to get the seed ready to plant once again. It is like taking a big breath of fresh air. I find this is a comfort in a world with little predictability. I hope that the next months bring you many opportunities to enjoy your gardens and family. It will be time to plant again and put the garlic to bed for the winter before we know it!
Scenes from the 2020 Harvest