Cleaning garlic late is better than never cleaning it at all

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Last summer when it was time to harvest my garlic, I was busy working 5 part time jobs.  When I finally got around to harvesting my garlic, a lot of it was past its prime.  In addition, I had a lot of cilantro, dill, and violet volunteers that made themselves cozy in my garlic beds.  Garlic does not like to share space with others.  I understand.  I need my personal space, too.  Because I was so busy, and in part because I have a hard time ripping plants out of the garden and getting rid of them, I did not weed my garlic beds.  The result was many of my garlic bulbs did not grow big and fat like they have forthe past few years.  My bad.  And so I declared a garlic crop failure for last season.  Not a total failure, but it was a huge disappointment.

I only harvested maybe one third to half of my garlic (out of over 600 plants) last summer because it was so late and many of the leaves were completely dead and straw colored.  Ideally, you should harvest garlic when 40-50% of the leaves are still green, especially if you want to store you garlic long term.  Why?  Each of those leaves on the garlic stem equates to one layer of wrapping around the bulb.  You need a few layers of bulb wrappers to keep your garlic in primo condition while it sits in your basement or cellar.  If you wait until all of the leaves have turned brown, then that means the bulb wrappers have already begun to disintegrate.   Green leaves mean the bulb wrappers are still in good condition.

So I only harvested a few varieties–out of the over 20 varieties I grow– and left the rest in the ground.  When they come up this spring, I will dig them, separate the cloves and replant.  I may or may not get good bulbs this summer by doing it this way, but I figured it was better to leave them in the ground to overwinter than to risk losing all of my garlic to rot or desiccation in storage.  Or worse–I could have eaten all of it!

Hubby was kind enough to help me harvest last summer, late at night when the sun was setting around 10pm, and I threw it all in the basement to clean after it had dried and cured for a few weeks.  Well, for most of the garlic, a few weeks turned into a few months…or several months.  This weekend I made a promise to myself that I would clean the remaining garlic because I risked losing it to desiccation and I should either clean it and eat it or it was going to go to waste.  And I hate letting things go to waste.  Especially garlic.

The nice thing about letting it sit for so long is the outer bulb wrappers are really dry, so cleaning goes very quickly.  But some of the bulbs felt soft and that means it is beginning to dry out.  Drat.  When it hits that state, it’s not good for eating, but garlic is a hardy plant, and if I throw some of those shriveled up cloves in the ground this spring, I’ll probably get a few bulbs out of them.  One of the reasons why I love garlic so much–its will to live!  Glancing at a few of the cloves, I noticed the basal plate is beginning to show some root budding.  And I’m sure if I sliced a clove in half, I would see a small green shoot in the center of the clove.  They are alive, after all.  So I saved a few bulbs that were still nice and big and firm, as well as a few of the not-so-firm, and put them back in the basement.  They will go out in the garden early this spring as soon as my raised beds thaw.  The rest of the garlic I threw into a bowl on my counter so I see it and put garlic in just about everything I eat.  Actually, most of what is remaining I will dehydrate to make homemade garlic powder, which, by the way, may be the best herb/spice on Earth.  But I need to be prepared for the entire house to smell of garlic for about 3 days while it dries.  Another reason I keep my garlic on the counter?  I love admiring the beautiful browns, purples, and pinkish-reds on the bulb wrappers.  Yet one more reason why I am infatuated with garlic–I think the bulbs are downright beautiful.

One of my favorite varieties that does really well in my garden is Duganski.  It’s super-hardy and has a great flavor.  This photo is from my first harvest of Duganski back in 2014.  duganski_compress

When I first started growing garlic, I got really nerdy with my harvest and measured every. single. bulb.  Then I created histograms based on bulb diameter.  I measured every. single. bulb. again in 2015 and graphed the data side-by-side to see if my garlic was larger or smaller, and thus giving me an idea of whether or not that variety was acclimating to my climate.  It turns out that Duganski didn’t get larger in 2015, but some varieties did.  Of course, conditions weren’t exactly the same–the bulbs were planted in different beds, the weather/watering regime was different in 2015, and weeds might have been different between the two years, among other things.  So I won’t say this particular variety doesn’t grow well in my garden, because it does.  In the long run I think having this data will help inform me which varieties will do well here.  And if at some point I need to scale back the number of varieties, or focus more on a few varieties that grow  big for market, then I can make a more informed decision.

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Truthfully, the scientist in me just loves geeking out on data.  It’s too bad I didn’t have any data for 2016, but I will try again next summer and hope I am able to add to my histograms next fall!

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