Friday, July 17, 2015

Garlic Harvest 2015

'Just pulled' garlic ~ 9th of July 2015
Our hot, dry spring and summer ...with a good amount of watering... has produced an impressive crop of garlic. Most of the heads are huge this year!
A few weeks before harvest, I stopped watering the garlic bed. A general rule of thumb is to not water after the third week in June. I also removed the straw mulch about the same time. Different gardeners have different rules of thumb regarding the best time to harvest. The dying back of leaves is only an approximate indicator. 
Several years ago, I took a gardening class through the Denman Island Community School from gardening guru, Annie Siegel. Her rule of thumb is, "It is ready to harvest when there are 5 skin wrappers remaining over the bulb." If the bulb is not well-wrapped, and the skins on the cloves are not intact, the garlic will not keep well. 
July 9th harvest ~ 5 skin wrappers
To count the garlic skins; pull one or two plants, insert your thumb nail into the neck, close to the bulb. Start peeling the skins, one at a time off of the cloves. I did a test pull on July 7th, taking one of each variety and both were very close to ready.The purple garlic had 5 skins and the white garlic had 5-6, good enough. I didn't want to risk leaving it in the ground with the possible threat of rain on the weekend.
Once the crop was pulled, I left it in the sun for a few hours. (There is conflicting opinion on this practice; some say garlic can get sunburned and change flavor when left in the sun... some suggest to leave it in the sun for half a day.) Then it is time to move it all into the shade to 'cure'. 
Raised off the ground, on a pallet, in the shade

In curing, the energy from the leaves goes into the bulbs as they dry. Remove any chunks of dirt from the roots, being careful not to bruise the garlic. Leave the roots on as they have a moderating effect on the drying rate. Drying out of direct light, in a warm, dry place with good air circulation is ideal. You want the bulbs to dry evenly, the wrappers to dry and the garlic retain its moisture. If you have a very large amount, the plants can be hung in bunches but you still need circulating air to reach all sides of the bulbs. An open shed in a breezy location is perfect. With either method, if you do not have enough air movement, use fans.
If the weather remains hot, dry and breezy; I carefully arrange the garlic on a pallet under cover. This keeps the garlic heads separated and raised off the ground for air circulation. My alternate method is to elevate old window screens off the floor in the shed or garage. The garlic is then spaced on the screens and fans are used for air circulation.
Alternate drying method - on screens with fans

Cleaning consists of trimming the leaves and roots and removing the dirty outer wrappers or skins. When the wrappers are dry, the roots and dirt will come off with a couple rubs with a glove leaving a short brush of roots. If they have picked up humidity, you may have to trim them with snips, leaving 1/2-1". The papery skins protect the garlic and keeps it fresh. Remove just the dirtiest outer layers. Cut the stem ends being careful not to cut the skins protecting the cloves and leave about 2-4 inches of dry stem. 
Separate and set aside the heads with the largest cloves for seed to be planted in the fall. In general, clove size is more important than bulb size as a determinant in future bulb size. Then place the remaining clean bulbs for storage in clean mesh bags or single layer in shallow boxes. Don't store damaged bulbs as they spoil easily. Separate any with soft cloves or otherwise damaged for immediate use. Store garlic at a cool, stable room temperature, 60-65F with moderate humidity and some air circulation is ideal.

Till next week... Happy Gardening and Bon App├ętit!

www.gourmetbysallyrae.com
Photos by Sally Rae

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