Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Garlic Harvest Begins

Finally, after a long wait, I have started harvesting garlic! My garlic was planted way back in September, so that's 8 months of waiting for good heirloom garlic, but it's finally paying off.

Having never seriously grown garlic before (besides half-heartedly planting some store cloves and not getting much out of them), I was unsure which varieties to plant, so I ordered the garlic sampler from Seed Savers Exchange.
I recieved the following varieties.
  • Bogatyr - Originally from Moscow. Beautifully marbled brown or purple striped cloves. Good storage qualities. Consistently one of the largest garlics grown at Heritage Farm
  • Broadleaf Czech - Nice big tan cloves with a hint of red. Cooked flavor is very nice, described as mild and full flavored. When raw the flavor is hot to very hot.
  • Chet's Italian Red - Highly productive and adaptable strain. Heirloom variety found growing wild in an abandoned garden along the roadside. A good garlic for eating raw, because the flavor is not too strong.
  • Chrysalis Purple - Dependable variety with large heads and easy-to-peel cloves, excellent flavor. One of the hardiest varieties we offer. Holds well in the field during harvest.
  • Elephant - Not a true garlic, but actually is a type of leek. Huge cloves, and much milder flavor than regular garlic.
  • Georgian Fire - Obtained from eastern Germany. Described by chefs as a truly “white hot” garlic. Raw taste is strong with a nice hotness that is not at all unpleasant. Great for salsa and salads.
  • German Extra Hardy - Vigorous grower with long roots that enable it to overwinter without heaving out of the ground. Outside skin is ivory-white, but the clove skin is dark red. Strong raw flavor, high sugar content, one of the very best for roasting.
  • Pskem River - Originally from the Pskem River Valley in Uzbekistan. Beautiful purple striped cloves, full flavor.
  • Persian Star - This variety was collected in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Pleasant flavor with a mild spicy zing. Good all-purpose variety that produces reliable yields year-after-year.
  • Tochliavri - From the village in the Republic of Georgia where Chester Aaron’s father was born. Original stock obtained from Dr. Peter Hanelt at Gatersleben in eastern Germany. The standard by which all other garlic flavor should be judged.
That's a LOT of garlic, but I use a lot of garlic, and I wanted a good variety so I can see which ones do well in my climate. I've been told that softnecks do better in the south than hardnecks, but I would like to have some of both. Supposedly hardnecks have better flavor, but that may just be hype since the garlic you buy at the store is almost always a softneck variety called California White. Hardnecks may seem special due to being less common.
Timing of garlic harvest seems tricky. If you pull them too early, the bulb will not have divided into cloves yet, and you'll get a solid bulb like an onion. Too late, and the cloves fall apart. I've gotten garlic in my CSA bag that was harvested either too early or too late, so I know what these look like. They're still usable, but not ideal.
The problem is judging what stage your garlic is at underground by looking at what's going on above ground. On top of that it can vary depending on your garlic variety. First I read that garlic is ready to harvest when 1/4 to 3/4 of the leaves are dead. That's a pretty big range! Chet's Italian Red seemed to be the earliest garlic I have. Its leaves started dying before any of the others. I pulled one up when it was 1/4 dead, and a bulb had hardly begun to form.
After that, I was more careful, trying to gently dig around the garlic to take a peek at the bulbs without actually pulling them up. Finally I also found tips that softnecks are ready when the tops start to flop over, and you should squeeze the stalks to check them. If they're spongy feeling they're ready, if they're still hard they need more time. Of course spongy vs. hard turned out to be relative.
Finally this past Thursday I couldn't wait any longer, and dug Chet's up.

Looks like I did well. The tops are about half dead, the stalks were spongy and starting to fall over, and when I dug them up, I could see individually defined cloves bulging out, with the outer skin still in tact, just like the garlic at the store. As you can see, they're pretty dirty, since we recently got rain, so my clay soil is still a bit sticky. Garlic varieties vary on how many cloves they get per bulb, and I got two bulbs of each variety, so I ended up with vastly different numbers of plants per variety. Chet's had the most, so I ended up with 25 bulbs total! A couple of them are puny, but most were about average sized, and I got two or three monster-huge ones. Those are going to be saved to re-plant this fall.

Now comes the curing stage.

For now, I tied the tops to clothes hangers and hung them up on hooks in the garage. (And now the garage smells like garlic. No vampires here!) They're supposed to be allowed to dry out for two or three weeks, depending on the humidity (which has been high around here lately). I left all the dirt on so it can dry out and will be easy to rub off later. I'm not supposed to wash them with water, since that will make them take much longer to cure. The outer skin of the bulbs is supposed to dry out and form a protective cover for the cloves inside. Once it's dried out and cleaned up, maybe I can try braiding it.

The softnecks are certainly maturing faster than the hardnecks. The leaves have always been much bigger on the softnecks as well. I wonder if it's always that way, or if it's because my hardnecks are having a hard time. It looks like Broadleaf Czech is about ready to harvest next, and then the last softneck, Tochliavri, after that. The Elephant garlic, besides being really, really big, is acting more like a hardneck. My other hardnecks are just now putting out scapes.

Here's a nice bunch of scapes from German Extra Hardy. I let the Pskem River scapes get too big, so they were tough and fibrous when I tried to eat them. They need to be harvested before they uncurl. Then they're still nice and tender. Bogatyr is just starting to have scapes poking out, so I'm going to let them get a little longer before harvesting them.

Everything seems to be going well, and I like having a staggered harvest like this. The hardneck bulbs are taking longer to mature, but they're making up for it by giving me some scapes first. Bascially I'm in garlic heaven right now! I'll try to post more pictures of the different varieties once they're all harvested and cleaned. When I recieved my garlic sampler way back in September, I was amazed at the variety of shapes and colors garlic can be, from ugly bumpy irregular Chet's Italian Red, to beautiful purple striped Pskem River. This is why I find heirloom vegetables to be so interesting

1 comment:

  1. Just reading this post has increased my knowledge of garlic ten-fold!
    You ought to write a book or something . . . really!