The harvest has begun. Right now it’s still a trickle, but it will kick into high gear soon enough. A zucchini or two here, a head of broccoli there, a banana pepper, some zucchini flowers…and the garlic!
This was our first attempt at garlic growing. I’m proud to say it went off without a hitch, and we’ve now got six beautiful bulbs curing in the garage. I’ll walk you through the whole process.
Last fall, around October, I ordered some German White Garlic planting stock from thegarlicstore.com. It was $9.95 plus shipping and handling, and it arrived in a brown paper bag. It was just three bulbs of garlic. Why did I have to order them specially instead of just grabbing some bulbs from the grocery store? Most commercial producers of garlic that ends up in the produce section of the grocery store cover their bulbs in anti-sprouting solutions that inhibit the cloves from doing what they need to do to reproduce themselves into more bulbs (in addition to whatever pesticides and other chemicals they use). You want a nice, clean, organic, heirloom variety, specifically chosen for your region. I chose the German White because it was described as loving harsh northern winters. Done and done.
We didn’t want to plant all 3 bulbs’ worth of garlic, so we used 2 in the kitchen and broke up just one of them for planting. I figured six plants would be a reasonable start. After mixing last summer’s compost into the garden’s soil, I separated and peeled six cloves and put them in the garden (pointy side up) around mid-October, gave them some water, mulched the area with leaves raked up from the yard, and let them be. You want to give them just a bit of a head start to begin sprouting and rooting before the snow and freezing temps set in. All winter long, I thought about my tender little cloves underground, wondering how they could possibly survive until spring.
But survive they did. This lovely sight greeted me in the final week of March:
Yes, March! A full six weeks before I could even begin thinking of planting anything else in the garden, the garlic was already pushing its way toward the sun, out of the still chilly earth. I kept watering them and cooing to them over the next few months as they grew and grew. Here they are on June 3rd:
By the 15th of June they had produced scapes:
We had to snip those off to allow the plant’s energy to be diverted back to bulb development, rather than the blossom the scape would have become. Once the scapes were snipped, the bottom leaves of the plant started to slowly yellow and wither. All the websites and gardening books I read said that knowing when to harvest your garlic is a sketchy, intuitive knowledge that comes with practice, but the general guideline is that when the bottom 3 or 4 leaves have withered and browned, you’re good to go. The window for that seems to be mid-July all the way through to mid-August. Harvest too soon and the bulbs will be under-formed. Wait too long, and they will start to get mushy and rot through their papers.
So I kept nervously checking the plants every day, watching the progress of the withering leaves, hoping the perfect harvesting moment would make itself clear. Eventually the suspense got to be too much, and I decided to go for it–I dug one up. And it was lovely. The bulb wasn’t humongous, but it was beautifully formed, with slightly wisping outside papers, firmly intact, and smelling like an amazing mixture of pungent garlic and wet, dank earth. I waited a couple more days, then dug up the rest in a fit of excitement and sensuality and pride.
Next came a kind of tricky part. Apparently garlic has to be cured for 2-3 weeks to allow it to be stored and gradually used over the rest of the year. It also gives the bulbs time to draw nutrients and sugars from the rest of the plant. To cure the garlic, you need to hang it in a darkish (out of direct sunlight) place with good air circulation and shelter from rain. We didn’t have enough for multiple bundles, so we just got creative with some twine and a couple hangers:
Then hung them in Mike’s garage, where they will dangle for a few weeks:
And there we have it folks. I can’t wait to try the first aromatic bite of garlic I grew right in the backyard. And of course we’ll have to set aside one of the bulbs for fall planting, so we can repeat the whole glorious adventure next year.