We are at the end of a hot and especially dry season. And right now, right at the moment I complete cracking 4000 pounds of garlic bulbs and separate them into little cloves that will forever haunt my dreams I am obliged to acknowledge my sore wrists, my garlic-chaff filled lungs and the fact that autumn has arrived in earnest.
I am not ready for autumn.
I’m still coping with the faint memory of last spring slipping into this summer which is now gone. No more.
Right. Time to plant.
Regardless of the amount of garlic to be planted it is best, especially in moist and temperate climates, to plant garlic in a purpose built raised bed. On a larger scale a raised-bed former is used.
We employ a hippy-inspired, home-made, spot-welded, disc-thingy-bed-former that attaches somewhat securely to our #HangInThereI-Think-I-CanGuardProtectorRemovedRotovator. #WorkSafe.
Ultimately your desire a loamy and uniform raised bed to accept seed.
We use a six inch spacing. In a bed three feet wide we plant six across and advance by six inches.
Plant to a depth where the top of the clove is two to four inches beneath the surface of the soil. Plant too shallow and you run the risk frost will heave the clove out of the winter ground. Mulching with straw will help prevent this from happening.
When planting by hand, as we do, it is difficult to plant too deep and four inches is an easy depth to achieve. This should result in a nice size bulb that is also easy to extract come harvest time.
It is about this time of the year we prepare for next year’s harvest. We begin with selecting seed for planting next month from the racks of cured garlic harvested in July.
Plant next month you say?!
Yes, we plant garlic comparatively early. Growers in our region typically plant around the first freeze in mid October.
We did that once. Won’t do it again.
The first time we planted garlic was on one such mid October morning when the old bat assisting us, and I’m being kind there, mentioned that if you wait until after nine in the morning the sun will have risen enough above the hills to the east.
“Enough for what?” I asked.
As the mid-morning frost reluctantly steamed its’ way out of the frigid freshly-rotovated planting rows she poked her stubbly little wing into the soil and blankly remarked “enough to prevent frost bite.”
F*ck that we thought.
Then we remembered a story told to us from a friend who has a friend who has a client whose friend knows this garlic grower who lives up on Upper Bench Road not far from the Fairview Road right there by the Blind Creek Vineyard who plants garlic insanely early and their garlic is like some of the best garlic ever but nobody knows about it cause they only grow it for themselves and don’t share it except for that one time years back before salmon left the river they shared like a bulb or two with my friend’s friend’s client’s friend because he or she fixed the hydraulics on the garlic dudes old Massey although it could have been the Kubota but them things run like a deer so it must have been the Massey. Ya. The Massey.
farmersdotter was inspired. She researched and armed herself with enough early garlic planting information to drive a spike through the old Chiropteran autumnal methodology and we’ve never looked back.
So, selecting seed. We select premium specimens from the drying racks…
then place them in totes …
where they wait to be processed by hand into individual seed or more commonly cloves.
Cracking garlic into seed began a couple of days ago. We will set the seed in the ground September 21. So all in all it takes a little over a month to process all the seed we will need. We see no harm nor degradation to seed that has been cracked and well stored for that amount of time prior to planting.
We select 4000 pounds of premium whole bulb garlic for our seed bank. Cracking each bulb by hand is labour intensive but it allows for a quick inspection of each clove for seed suitability.
Suitable seeds are large cloves with a good-sized basal plate (neural tube) that will generate a healthy volume of roots. They are firm and wrapped with a smooth healthy layer of paper. They should exhibit a desirable symmetry.
However, not all cloves in any one bulb may be suitable as seed. Some cloves are too small with an insignificant basal plate that will develop a week root system. Some will be ‘doubles’ with two or more cloves that can not be cleanly separated and if planted would run a high risk of producing an inferior bulb with two or more ‘scapes‘. Some cloves may simply appear unhealthy. These will usually have a mottled or wrinkled paper covering and an inferior basal plate.
Save these for the kitchen.
We separate garlic bulbs into seed by cracking. A method effective with well cured garlic. Simply tap the hard scape core down onto a hard surface. This force will crack or pop the root basal plate releasing each clove. Simply strip away excess paper and discard the hard scape core.
By the time the last bulb is cracked and we have accounted for the unsuitable seed we will have about 3400 pounds of select seed to plant into the warm soil of the equinox.
‘Cracking’ garlic is the term generally used to describe breaking apart the garlic bulb into individual cloves prior to planting. Individual cloves, by virtue of being ripped apart from their siblings, are referred to as seed. I like to think of them as orphans.
There are 26 Russian Red garlic cloves that make up the one pound punnet of seed on the scale. We will put in 3120 pounds of seed so that roughly translates to over 80,000 plants for next summer. Most advise I have found suggests cracking the garlic as close to planting as possible to ensure the integrity and viability of the seed. Some even suggest cracking the night before. Sure, like I’m going to be able to add 3119 more punnets of orphans overnight. It will take around 120 hours to crack that much. Last year we began cracking seed 14 days prior to planting and there was no noticeable loss of integrity at harvest. So don’t fret over having your garlic cracked for a few days or more before you plant. Store your orphans in a well ventilated area at around 10 to 15 degrees centigrade and I’m sure it will be fine.
We managed to get some fall rye established in the past couple of weeks even though the weather has been very dry and warm. The area pictured will receive new garlic seed by around October 7. We will till the rye in one pass then one more pass with discs attached to a cultivator will raise the soil forming a nice bed for planting. The remaining 3/4 of the field will stay under fall rye until the spring.
Two weeks ago today harvesting of the Russian Red hardneck garlic began in earnest. A week later all the garlic was pulled off and hung to dry in the drying shed. Pictured is one of 15 drying racks from the drying shed, each measuring approximately 10′ x 36′ and supporting in excess of a thousand pounds of cured garlic.
Today, two weeks later the drying shed is emptying and the storage shed is filling up with cured and cleaned garlic. A lot of work. We decided it was time for a breather so we are taking a couple extra days of rest. The garlic won’t suffer from a couple of extra days of breathing or curing either. The storage shed is a straw bale constructed building that has a very stable storage environment.
Even when outdoor temperatures climb to the upper thirties the storage shed hovers between 12 and 16 C depending on how much the door is opened during the afternoon. The garlic moves to market quickly so the shed is primarily used to store our seed until mid October.