Pest problem affecting garlic

In this too-wet, pestiferous year, garlic had been our ace-in-the-hole as a reliable crop with few pest problems. Getting all 2,000 heads hung with few problems felt great, as we’ve never had major post-hanging trouble in past years. Should’ve known it was too good to be true this year.

In checking the progress of curing, which has been slow and troubling due to the constantly humid conditions, we’ve found some form of insect larvae in a few heads. Recently, we’ve cracked open a couple of otherwise good-looking heads to find several nasty-looking white maggoty things along the inner stem, eating away at the stem and/or cloves. If you’ve bought a head and find this, please, please tell us and get your money back. They can’t always be detected from the outside.

We’re not entirely sure what these are. Joanna saw a moth on one of the heads, and the first online searches revealed a terrifying pest spreading into northern NY from Canada, the leek moth, which is destroying allium crops in the area (do a search on this and you’ll find some very sad articles from the last year or two). However, the descriptions don’t quite fit and it would seem a jump for it to suddenly show up here next. We now think the moth was a coincidence, and the pests that we’re seeing are likely the onion root maggot, a fly larvae which normally targets onions but can attack garlic as well, particularly if there are few onions in the area, which was true of our larger field this year. Until this year, we’ve always grown garlic in close proximity to onions, but this year did major plantings of garlic in the main field with almost no onions. So perhaps we invited them in, or perhaps it’s some other obscure pest that we haven’t found a reference to yet.

We were already somewhat concerned about the curing process, as the weather has been very difficult for this (consistently high humidity). We have two fans running in the barn to keep air moving, but feel that the curing process isn’t going entirely smoothly. I noticed at market this morning that some of the heads we sold weren’t as dry as we had hoped. The heads we sold today will be fine if used in the coming week or so, but we can’t guarantee longer term storage. They really should be drier than they are after three weeks of hanging. We’re worried about rot or mold in heads which aren’t drying fast enough, and now about maggot infestations from a pest that shouldn’t even be bothering garlic.

Tomorrow we’re hosting a dozen or so folks for a fun garlic-tasting event, using all twelve of our main varieties. In fact, the process of working with heads of garlic for the event brought the maggots to our attention. We’ve found a couple of heads in which the maggots were present along the neck, but they hadn’t penetrated the cloves. In the worst case, a head that was visibly problematic from the outside, multiple maggots were tunneling the cloves. It’s hard to say yet whether the maggots are an isolated or severe problem. Some bad heads always happen; it’s the frequency of occurence in the heads that we’ve looked at that concerns us. I sure hope no maggoty ones got by me at market; I culled a couple that looked suspicious and they did indeed prove to be infested when we opened them up.

Again, if you encounter any problems with garlic that you purchased from us, please, please let us know, both so we can provide a refund and so we have a better understanding of the extent of the problem. And if you do have a bad head to report, we’d be grateful for any other information you can provide us, including extent of damage and variety of garlic, if known.

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