For the last few years we have grown a bit of garlic (2,000 heads) to sell to a couple of local markets. It was my idea to try it and net us a bit of money that we could put towards a vacation each year now that we are living on a pension. Last year was a brutal year for us – both of us were injured, we had a long drought and our garlic crop ended up with a rot from the cold, rainy May and we lost half of our crop. I spent way too many hours looking at pictures of disfigured garlic and reading about the many diseases and how difficult it was to eradicate them. So it was with great trepidation that we planted our fall crop still using our own seed and in different garden beds. This year we had a record dry May instead of a rainy one and we did not water the garlic very much worried that we would kick-start the fungus. Two weeks ago I went out and pulled up a few sick looking garlic and sure enough it looked like the same rot as last year. I was sooo disappointed and really trying to avoid going out to actually harvest.
The garlic is planted in October, November - each head separated into individual cloves and each clove is planted to yield a head of garlic the next summer. Hard-neck varieties like ours – Music – send up scapes in June, early July that need to be trimmed off. We sold some of our scapes to local markets a few weeks ago (the earliest on record for us) and as of July 1 the scapes we left on were standing erect, a sure sign that the garlic was ready to harvest. July 2 is the earliest we have ever harvested our garlic – four years back we were harvesting the end of July! Last year we started harvesting July 11. This year July 2!
We went out and started pulling the garlic and lo and behold – we had great garlic! Some really nice large heads and a fair number of smaller heads due to the lack of water but almost no rot! I was doing a happy dance and starting to count the dollars I can tell you (we already have a week booked in Myrtle Beach in August ya see).
Harvesting garlic is pretty labor intensive and best done by hand – while Jerry loosens the soil with a pitch fork I do an initial quick clean and look to remove most of the soil and make sure it looks healthy – any suspect garlic goes in a separate bin right away. Once we have a wheelbarrow full we head up to the garage where it gets a further cleaning, removing more soil, some brown leaves and another look to make sure the bulb is sound. We then tie a dozen together with a string and then hang them from nails we have placed all over the garage so they can dry for another 2-3 weeks.
Once they are dry we will then cut off the leaves, stalk and some of the roots and do the final clean with gloves or toothbrushes. It is then we will also do the big separation of keeping back seed stock for next year, then dividing the rest to sell by size. The largest we will sell individually and the smaller stuff we will bundle in ½ pound or 1 pound bundles.
We also planted a fair number of bulbils in the fall – bulbils are garlic seeds from the flower (scapes) and they are super tiny. It takes three years of successive planting to get the bulbils to be big enough to plant for garlic heads but it is a great way to get “clean” seed (without any disease) and a cheap way to increase your seed stock, albeit cheap and looong way to increase your seed stock.