Harvesting garlic

One of the more exciting parts of the farming year is here: garlic harvest. Garlic is one of our better crops, and we’re very proud of it. After planting in October, we maintain it throughout the winter and spring to make it to this date eight months later. The earliest-maturing varieties are ready to come out, and they’re looking good.
We begin harvest when the leaves really start to die back. Everything looks green in the photo, but in reality many of the tips are starting to brown. Also, the soil conditions are near-perfect: still moist from the recent rains but drying out enough to not be a mess. If things are too dry it’s difficult to get the bulbs out of the hard soil, while it it’s too wet everything’s so muddy that cleaning is a pain. We prefer to minimize washing garlic since we’re trying to dry it, especially in humid conditions.
The garlic is pulled, then sorted into four grades. Every year we’re working to save more heads for planting next year’s crop, as the high-quality organic seed garlic we use is very expensive (around $3/head). Plus, we feel strongly about preserving genetic strains that are uniquely adapted to this farm’s conditions. So we grade heads into Seed (premium quality to be planted in the fall), A (good-sized heads sold for full price), B (smaller heads sold for a lesser price) and sub-B (under-developed heads that we’ll keep for our own use). We track the graded amounts for each variety so we can compare yields year to year.
Each grade is then divided into bundles of 5-6 heads, tied with a length of old baling twine saved from hay and straw bales used elsewhere on the farm, and hung in the rafters of our prep shed to cure for weeks. Garlic needs a spot out of direct sun, but with plenty of air movement, to help it dry and cure properly. If the process works right, it will store for a long time, allowing us to keep selling it for months. Rafters work great to provide this kind of shady, dry location with enough airflow to keep mold away.

Most of this work has been done in late evening so far, as the temperature and the sun drop. We’ve gone right through into dark the last two nights, finishing tonight by carrying the latest harvest into the house for light. They’ll be hung tomorrow morning.

We’ll be selling green (fresh) garlic for another week or two while the harvest is on-going, then there may be a short gap while the curing process finishes. Then we’ll have a consistent presence of our many varieties at market for the rest of the summer. Judging from the many eager questions I’ve gotten from customers who remember our garlic from last year, it’ll be none too soon.

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