Garlic harvest, new barn plans, Mother Earth news post on sweet potatoes

Harvesting garlic by hand, Photo by Marilyn Rayne Squier

Harvesting garlic by hand,
Photo by Marilyn Rayne Squier

We have been harvesting our hardneck garlic for the past week, and the end is not in sight! Back in November, we accidentally planted more than we intended. I can’t remember now if our planting schedule had the numbers wrong, or the planters misunderstood the schedule. Anyway, we intended to increase our ratio of softneck:hardneck, but ended up planting the same amount of softneck garlic as in recent years, and more hardneck than we had grown for at least three years.Those good at math will already realize this means we decreased our ratio of softneck:hardneck!

A word to the wise – don’t plant more than you need! It leads to more weeding, more tending, more harvest than you have use for, and less time to keep up with everything else! Plus you have the heart-rending dilemma of when to cut your losses and how. We were considering tilling in the remaining hardneck garlic before it deteriorated any further, to prevent ourselves from being distracted by the siren-song it was singing, so we could get on with harvesting the softneck before it started to go downhill. Plus of course, garlic is not the only crop! Now we are looking at a mutually beneficial arrangement with some neighbor-friends who don’t have enough garlic – their mistake was not to plant enough! We are offering them a You-Dig arrangement. (Please don’t anyone else contact us hoping to dig some – we can cope with only one set of friends coming and digging!)

Garlic hanging in netting to dry and cure. Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

Garlic hanging in netting to dry and cure.
Photo Marilyn Rayne Squier

 

 

 

I wrote in Growing for Market magazine my checklist for harvesting, curing, snipping and sorting garlic in August 2015. Here’s the sections on harvest and hanging:

Garlic Harvest Step by Step

  1. Very hard soil can damage the bulbs, so water the night before If the soil is very dry,.
  2. Plan for an average of 15 minutes per 5 gallon bucket for digging up garlic and 15 minutes per bucket for hanging it up.
  3. Bruised bulbs won’t store well, so treat the bulbs like fragile, sun-sensitive eggs. Don’t bang them together, or throw or drop them.
  4. Use digging fork to loosen the bulbs, without stabbing them. Don’t pull on unloosened garlic, as that damages the necks, and they won’t store well.
  5. If there is a lot of soil on the roots, rake the soil out with your fingers
  6. Don’t rub or pick at the skin. To store well, bulbs need several layers of intact skin.
  7. Air above 90F can cook garlic bulbs, sun can scorch them. So don’t leave them out on the beds. Put them gently into buckets or crates angled to shade the bulbs.
  8. No matter how dirty they are, don’t wash the bulbs. They need to dry out, not get wetter. The dirt will dry and fall off later, or if bulbs are not clean enough for market, the soil can be gently brushed off.
  9. Keeping the containers shaded, load them on carts or a truck and take to your barn for drying. It’s important not to leave garlic in plastic buckets for long, because of condensation.

Drying and Curing Garlic Step by Step

  1. We like our garlic arranged in order of harvesting, to make it easier to find dry garlic  when the time comes to trim it. We hang our curing garlic in vertical netting hanging around the walls of our barn. Some growers use horizontal racks, others tie garlic in bunches with string and hang the bunches from the rafters.
  2. We start at knee height, threading one garlic plant in each hole of the netting. (The netting stretches downward with the weight of the garlic. Starting lower would lead to garlic piling up on the floor.) Take a garlic plant, fold over the top quarter or a third of the leaves, and push the leafy part through the netting. The leaves will unfold behind the netting. Leaves shouldn’t poke through to the front.
  3. We work back and forth in rows, filling a 4-6 ft wide strip per person, working upwards.
  4. We continue as high as we can reach before moving to the next section. We make walls covered with garlic, day by day until done. This sequential arrangement simplifies trimming, and makes the best use of the fans, giving the garlic the best chance of drying evenly.
  5. Damaged bulbs are “Farm Use” quality and are set on horizontal racks to dry.
  6. Arrange box fans to blow on the drying garlic. Even in an airy old tobacco barn, fans are essential in our humid climate.
  7. Wait 3-4 weeks, then test some bulbs for dryness by rolling the neck of the garlic between your finger and thumb. It should feel dry, papery, strawy. If many bulbs are slippery, gooey, or damp in any way, delay the trimming until at least 90% of the necks are dry.

Meanwhile, we need a new barn. The one where we cure our garlic is the upstairs floor of an old dairy barn, formerly a tobacco drying barn. I’ve long looked forward to a single-story barn, with no need to haul the garlic upstairs just to haul it down again later. The old barn is seriously riddled with rot and insect chewing. We’d also like a new tool shed, as our old one leans north considerably, and is too small and dark. A small group of us has been meeting sporadically to plan the new barn, and we are divided on whether to go for one story or two. Here’s three questions for other garlic growers reading this:

  1. Do you cure your garlic upstairs in a barn or on the ground floor/first floor?
  2. Do you think one is better than the other in terms of airflow?
  3. Is any extra airflow worth the extra hauling garlic up and down stairs?

We have been drawing floor plans and making scale models, and thinking about storage of tools, seeds and supplies. Does anyone have a good solution for storage of rolls of agricultural fabrics? We roll our shadecloth, rowcover and insect mesh on 5 ft sticks. We’re thinking of slightly inclined shelves (or arms) with adjustable height settings. We want to be able to see what’s what and to keep various different types of fabric separate, rather than in a big heap as at present.

If anyone knows a good book or web resource on storing garden gear, please leave a comment. Using existing ideas beats reinventing the wheel!


My blog post for Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog, about growing sweet potatoes is out. Our plants this year are looking good. I appreciate how much delicious and nutritious food sweet potatoes provide for so little work!

Sweet potatoes growing on biodegradable mulch. Photo Brittany Lewis

Sweet potatoes growing on biodegradable plastic mulch.
Photo Brittany Lewis

7 thoughts on “Garlic harvest, new barn plans, Mother Earth news post on sweet potatoes

  1. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, it is much appreciated. I’m interested in trying the vertical netting method for drying garlic, is there a specific brand of netting that you recommend to use and where could I purchase some? Thanks!

    • Joann, I haven’t got a specific brand to recommend. You need something pretty strong. Ours is nylon, with holes about 1.5″ across. Look at netting sold to catch fish commercially, or keep game birds in, or to keep deer out. Sturdier than polyethylene bird netting used to protect fruit, by quite a bit. Maybe this http://www.leevalley.com/US/garden/page.aspx?p=10444&cat=2,43319,51785,10444 although I haven’t seen a sample. Or wire poultry netting, although it’s not so flexible.

  2. I’ve got my garlic laid out on several sheets of newspaper on our covered front porch, where hopefully the air circulation will be sufficient while still keeping off rain and the newspaper will wick out dampness, rather than making it worse. I wish I had a barn to use (everyone needs something to dream about, right?), but this is the best I can do for the moment. I will say my garlic *harvest* has certainly improved since I read your note about harvesting it a specific number of days after the scapes show up!

    • Chris, Yes we all need dreams and aspirations! If you can raise your newspaper and garlic up a little to let air under it, that will help. Even on some small branches or twigs (I realize this is pratically in your house, and you might need to keep things fairly clean). Or old oven or fridge shelves, or any kind of rack shelving. Even a half inch off the floor will be better than nothing, as it will avoid condensation at night when the floor cools.
      About the weeks from scapes to harvest – I think it is a regional thing. Bulb naturity is mostly about daylength (partly about temperature). Scapes seem to dance to a slightly different tune. It might not be three weeks everywhere, but it is here in central Virginia.

  3. I would also love to see the comments about storage for seeds, tools and landscape fabrics, so hopefully someone will post some interesting info!!

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