One of the things I enjoy the most about our life here at Small House is taking the time to learn what all goes into our food. And I don’t just mean the ingredients. A lot of the food that is readily available at the super market for hungry consumers to purchase by the bag load takes quite a bit of work, time, effort and patience to get from seed to shelf. Or, in many cases at the super market, seed to processing plant to package..
Most of us don’t really think about that while we push our carts down the aisle, dodging the crying children and seeking the biggest sales.. who’s got time for that? As long as someone is getting that work done so we can have available whatever fruit, vegetable, grain, meat or corn based product suites our mood at that moment..But I’m getting off topic.. let me try again.
Here at Small House I’ve had the chance to learn how much work and time really goes into growing and preparing even the most basic of foods. Some take a lot of hard work. Some take a lot of patience and care.. and that brings me to our first year growing Garlic. As it turns out, Garlic is really quite easy to grow, but it sure takes a lot of time and patience! For me, this is one of the most difficult things in the garden. Patience.
I love to plant seeds. There’s just something about it that is almost magical and awe inspiring every time I do it.. and I love to harvest and gather things. I could sit in the woods or in a field all day and pick. I have. Again, its almost a magical experience for me.. you could imagine how much I love growing radishes! From seed to harvest in just a matter of weeks! Nothing like garlic.. nope.
Garlic is the opposite.
Garlic likes that winter freeze to really get it to do it’s thing, so you need to plant it in the fall and let it over-winter. Aunt Laura tells us, “Plant your garlic around Labor Day and harvest it on the 4th of July.”
That’s pretty close to what we did. Our garlic took about 10 months from planting to harvest!
We moved into Small House in July of 2013. One of the first things we did outside here was to construct some raised beds. That was sometime in August.. The following month we planted garlic. We really wanted to try our hand at it and I certainly had no patience to wait until spring to start planting things!
We got our garlic to plant from Swier Family Farm near Remus, a small town northwest of here. I had recently found them online,they had been growing garlic commercially for ten years and had quite reasonable prices. We’ve actually gotten to know the Swier family and have visited and helped out on their farm quite a few times since then. We’re even a part of their CSA program!
If you’ve never grown garlic before, all it is is planting one clove of garlic for each bulb you hope to grow. We planted ours around two inches deep sometime mid to late September. We mulched them with some straw right away. Before winter hit, we piled on some leaves from the yard six to eight inches deep and let it rest. And then we waited.. Soon the spot was covered in snow, lots of snow. And then more snow. Later, it snowed again.
And there it sat. Buried in the snow. Months after we had planted it. Luckily we were able to distract ourselves with the tasks of Maple Syrup season. Trudging through the snow, tapping trees and hauling buckets, it was easy to forget about the tender cloves we had planted nearly five months ago!
By the time Maple season had come to an end, the snow was gone, the air had started to warm and spring was just getting ready to ..well, spring. Out I went to the garlic bed to rake back the mulch and see what I could find. I was so excited, I almost ran out there. And I probably did run back to the house to tell everyone the news, the garlic had sprouted! On April 8th, the first yellow shoot pushed its way out of the soil to let us know that spring was here! All is not lost, winter is over and something is already growing in our garden! It was a happy day.. and then we waited some more. Thankfully with the arrival of Spring, there is no shortage of activity around the homestead! Starting seeds indoors, tilling new Earth, planting peas, dealing with Spring flood waters.. by May the garlic had become a proud part of the homestead tour. It was almost standing a foot tall and looked beautiful! But it was nowhere near ready. We still had to wait until the garlic put out its flower stalk, also known as a garlic scape.
The scapes came in June. Curly, funny sprouts from the top of the plants. If you leave them be, they make interesting little flowers. But if you cut them off, the plant puts its energy back down to growing bigger bulbs. So we cut most of ours off. We left a few just to see how they’d look, but after all this time, we wanted some nice big bulbs of garlic! And as it turns out, garlic scapes are quite tasty to eat too! They were a rather popular item at the farmer’s markets this year, but lucky for us, we had plenty of our own already!
So after the garlic scapes were all cut, it was finally time. To wait some more. Give the bulbs a little more time to fatten up. Around mid-July the lower leaves of the plants began to turn yellow and dry up.. harvest time was close! We needed to wait until we had a bit of a dry spell so the ground and the garlic wouldn’t be too wet or soft when we dug them up. If I hadn’t already waited long enough, I had to wait it out through three days of rain before we were finally ready to harvest our garlic!
The harvest was relatively simple. Gently dig out the bulbs by hand, brush off the dirt, trim the roots and hang in bundles in your shed to cure. And then wait. It’ll be about two more weeks for the papery shells to dry. Then you are finally ready to cut back the stalks and prepare your garlic for storage at last!
Although it took most of a year to grow our own garlic, it was a lot of fun to do and it was pretty simple too. I can’t wait until the garlic is ready to come down from the rafters and we can try some in the kitchen… And then wait until Fall when we can plant it again!