Dear Garlic, We got it right this time!

Posted by on Jul 19, 2014 in Grow, Recent Posts | 11 comments

Dear Garlic, We got it right this time!

It’s such fun to learn through trial and error, and there’s no shortage of opportunity in the garden. If you read my book, you know that I planted my first crop of garlic upside-down, because it’s fun to just go for it as a beginner. I was so sure the little green sprout wanted to send a nice root down into the soil, but that green sprout was the first leaf. It had to work a long time to curve around itself to reach the light that first season. I grew cool umbrella-shaped garlic, but the cloves were tiny and, well, I learned how to plant garlic. The side of the clove with the roots that look like little hairs goes down.

I was sure to plant it right-side-up on year two, but an extremely wet season caused a lot of rot. To add to that problem, when I pulled it out of the ground, the bulbs were so dirty, I washed them clean with a spray nozzle–sure to power water into all the possible crevasses. It was so pretty when I put it up to cure, but actually I set it up for a good rotting. Garlic needs to be as dry as possible at harvest to allow for curing.

We managed to eat a good bit before the rot set in, but we had to throw out about 1/3 of the second season garlic. After two less-than-stellar garlic harvests, I decided my beginner’s mind needed some help, so I reached out to my community. I asked my friend Davis (who grows the biggest bulbs of garlic I’ve seen) if I could buy some seed garlic from him, and I asked him for his garlic-growing wisdom. This third crop was gonna make it.

Here’s what he said at planting time:

  • Plant in mid-October (for our region–Floyd VA is in USDA Hardiness Zone 6b)
  • Plant with the little furry roots pointed down and the single sprout or point of the garlic clove pointed up. (Okay, he didn’t say this. I learned this the hard way.)
  • Pay attention to spacing–plant 6 inches apart.
  • Garlic is a heavy feeder–add plenty of organic matter/compost in fall. I used Harmony Organic Fertilizer (composted chicken manure).
  • Keep the beds weeded, as garlic doesn’t compete well.

His advice made me consider a few things about my gardening so far. I haven’t paid enough attention to spacing. It’s funny–I know plants need a certain amount of space, but I insist on crowding. I’m learning that less is more in yet another area of my life.

Since Davis said to space ’em 6″ apart, I found a stick that measured 6″ and used that as my guide. The cloves sprouted before the ground froze, and I mulched them with leaves and wood chips. I kept the beds free of weeds as part of my morning coffee-in-the-garden walking routine.

When the scapes shot up, I researched the right time to cut them–wait until they make their first curl. I pureed the scapes with olive oil and froze the mixture in ice-cube trays. Scapes are a great addition to pestos, dressings and salsas.

The leaves started to wilt and yellow a tiny bit in early June, so I visited our local organic gardening supplier, Seven Springs Farm. I can’t say enough how lucky I am to live in a place rich with such knowledge. I talked with the farmer there about the garlic and his advice was to water and feed. Since it was so close to harvest time, he recommended a water-soluble fertilizer. I used fish fertilizer and liquefied organic kelp (seaweed).

That perked them back up. I see the interconnectedness of this life. If Davis hadn’t stressed the importance of keeping the weeds down (duh) and I hadn’t incorporated walking my garden into my morning routine, I wouldn’t have noticed the wilting leaves or the tiny bit of yellow. This slowing down and noticing is a nice side-effect of simple living.

Another month passed and I remembered that July is garlic harvest time. But when? Back to Davis. I sent him a text. “When do you harvest your garlic? I’m following your lead on this crop. So far, so good.”

He replied, “Depends, but about now, I’m looking for a dry window of several days to a week to let them cure in the ground. But as leaves begin to brown on the tips, they’re about ready. We’re eating some now, fresh right outta the ground–no hanging, just pull and serve.”

I didn’t get the full week he suggested, but I did get four dry days. I pulled it out right before a storm rolled in–a dramatic thunder roll said goodbye to the 2014 garlic. Digging it up was a bit like Christmas. What is in the package of dirt? Beautiful-right-side-up, dirty garlic!

And guess what? I have a place to cure it. The first year, I tried the tiny house loft, but there just wasn’t room. I ended up hanging them around the house in red mesh bags. It worked okay, but there was some rot because there wasn’t enough airflow. The second year, I tried to cure in the shed, but it’s moist and cool in there and they didn’t dry out fast enough, plus I soaked them :/

This time, I’m using the stairwell in the big house–it’s out of the way and has plenty of airflow. Just to be sure, I move our loft fan up there during the day for extra air circulation. This might just be my year for garlic.

I think we got it right this time.

Hari with some of the 2014 Garlic

Perseverance and a willingness to make mistakes and learn as you go is a huge benefit in any new endeavor. Finding the humor in it all makes it fun. Could I have found all this out the first year? Yup! But sometimes you don’t know what you need to learn. The trial and error approach is a powerful educator.

I am grateful to live in such a wonderful community. Thanks, Garlic. Thanks, Davis. Thanks, Seven Springs.

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  1. Absolutely LOVED this post! Morning coffee garden walks–good for so many reasons as you mentioned, and maybe some other less tangibles. And all these great garlic tricks! We’ve always had miniature garlic bulbs, and didn’t know to trim the scapes, so we nibbled on garlic greens and ate the tiny bulbs fresh as they weren’t worth curing. This past year, we moved to New Zealand (Hari, you might remember from prior messages) and lived in a property too small for more than container gardening, but now we’re back to our sweet home in the mountains of northern Arizona, and I’m gazing dreamily at the raised beds we built 12 years ago. Renters planted a little corn and peas while they were here, but didn’t stay long enough for harvest. Volunteer amaranth and Jerusalem artichokes have populated all the remaining spaces, creating a veritable forest. Having too busy a life in the past, I never slowed down and asked questions about the garlic (or the stunted carrots). I’m thinking next year we’ll plant some great garlic! We might have a later picking season though, as July is monsoon season here–wet! We tend to get a late start with planting due to late spring frosts though, so maybe August or September will work fine. I hope I can come back to your marvelous post about garlic, and about the life lessons it illuminates – slowing down to look, taking regular care, tapping into the wealth of the community. Thank you again, Hari!

    • You are welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed. Enjoy this homecoming! I’m happy for you.

  2. Congrats on the garlic! This was my first year growing and it was so so. I got them planted the right direction, but they definitely died back earlier then they were suppose to I think. Mine are already cured, I pulled them about a month ago. Reading your post makes me think I probably should have fertilized a little bit more then I did. But none the less, the garlic we’ve had so far has been pungent and delicious. We’ll be through it all before it even has a chance to rot! Must grow lots more next year. Interestingly, three years seems to be about what it takes us to feel like we have a good handle on new project.

    • You’ve got to try Davis’s seed garlic.

  3. Hari, I simply love the way you write. The garlic growing reminded me of my 4-H days and the year I grew Peanuts. That was a real learning experience too. Enjoy your beautiful garlic. Susan

    • Thank you, Susan. I’ve yet to try peanuts. Maybe next year when we expand the garden.

  4. I just learned SO much, thank you!

    • I’m glad, Macy! Thanks for reading. Here’s to a good harvest!

  5. What a great story you shared! And there’s definitely a lot of good advice in there. When we get to the point of planting garlic, I’ll reread this post.

    We are on our third “garden experiment” in our little back yard. This is the first year we’ve been able to produce some healthy plants via the square foot gardening method. Trial and error has been our best teacher too. 🙂

    The last photo in your post is awesome. I hope your harvest cures exactly as you hope!

    • Hi Tracy!
      Thanks. So much to learn. So many variables. We just got 7″ inches of rain in the last four days. That’s gonna change things. Wishing you a wonderful harvest.

  6. I used to do the morning coffee walks in my garden. I haven’t gardened in a while due to some life circumstances. I’ve never grown garlic and missed the window to plant them this year. I’m trying to learn all I can before next year. We have a local gardening store here that sells garlic bulbs special for Idaho. I’ll invest in those next year. BTW, love your tiny house!!