The past few weeks in our garden

I’m just back from vacation. It’s a very lucky farmer who gets two weeks away in the height of summer – one of the benefits of living in community. (See the Twin Oaks website for more on that). The rest of the crew took care of things, and I missed the hottest week of the year (so far). Here’s some of the jobs I missed:

A much delayed planting of the summer potatoes on 7/18 (a whole month later than usual). Our smaller tractor was out of commission for a month, and when it came back, people were lining up to use it. We bought some new furrowers In June, but I missed seeing them in action. Our previous equipment didn’t make deep enough furrows, leading to potatoes popping up above the soil and turning green. We mulch our summer potatoes immediately after hilling, which is immediately after planting, so there is no chance of hilling again later. We like to mulch (with hay) to keep the soil damper and cooler in the hot weather.

Our Cecchi and Magli potato digger

Our Cecchi and Magli potato digger

Potatoes lifted Oct 09

An October 2009 picture of our lifted potatoes.
Credit Kathryn Simmons

I also missed the harvest of the spring potatoes. We had hoped to do this earlier too, but mowing the tops was delayed and so the skins didn’t thicken up till 7/22. The potatoes are now safely in the root cellar, and I’m opening the door at night to cool them and to provide fresh air. Newly harvested potatoes are still live plants, still respiring and so still need oxygen.  I learned this the hard way years ago, when I didn’t ventilate the cellar enough. The potatoes died in the centers (the condition is called Black Heart). A very disappointing waste of good food. Later the potatoes will go dormant, and won’t need daily air exchanges.

Our root cellar. Credit McCune Porter

Our root cellar.
Credit McCune Porter

We follow the spring potatoes with the fall broccoli and cabbage, a slightly hair-raising fast turnaround. We have composted and disked the patch, set out driptape, stakes and ropes, rowcover and sticks to hold it down. Because of Harlequin bugs, we need to cover the new transplants for a few weeks until they have the strength to withstand the bugs. So we plant rows 34″ apart, under ropes on stakes. One piece of 84″ rowcover will form a square tunnel over two rows of brassicas. The rowcover is held up by the ropes.

This evening will be the first of many transplanting shifts. Because we are late, the transplants are larger than ideal. Ironically, this year the first sowings germinated very well, grew very well, and the bugs didn’t get under the ProtekNet. Fabulous transplants and they’ve had to wait and wait. Hopefully we can make up for some lost time by really putting our shoulders to the wheel and planting efficiently. having driptape really helps. We turn it on while we plant and so the plants get a drink as soon as they are in the ground. Watering is not a separate job.

While I’ve been away, the eggplants, pickling cucumbers, cantaloupes and okra have all started to produce. We are trying some West Indian Gherkins this year for the first time. I’ll let you know how the pickles turn out. They are strange things, like miniature prickly watermelons. Very prolific, disease-resistant and heat tolerant. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, though.

West Indian Gherkins

West Indian Gherkins
Credit Monticello Store

Snipping, Sorting and Storing Garlic

Clipped garlic bulbs ready for sorting and storing. Credit Wren Vile

Clipped garlic bulbs ready for sorting and storing.
Credit Wren Vile

Here’s what we’re doing these hot, rainy afternoons (and a couple of rainy mornings) – taking our cured garlic out of the netting lining the barn walls, and preparing it for storage. It’s been curing (drying down) for about four weeks. In the process we are selecting which bulbs to keep to replant his fall.  Calvin figured we’ve grown enough garlic for each person to eat one whole bulb a week. i thought that was a lot, so I recalculated in the cool of the office. To my surprise the answer is closer to two whole bulbs each per week!

We have checklists for the people trimming garlic, so i thought I’d share those with you, so you can be a fly on our barn wall, or in case you grow garlic too,and wonder how other growers deal with the bounty.

A pleasant sit-down, social task. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

A pleasant sit-down, social task.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Setting up

  • Handle the bulbs gently so as not to bruise them. We need long storage, which means no damage.
  • Test for dryness by rolling the garlic neck between finger and thumb. If many bulbs are slippery, slidey, or damp in any way, cancel the shift, try again in a few days.
  • If 90% seem dry enough, proceed, working in the direction they were hung up.
  • Gently remove plants from the netting into a bucket. Do not cut plants off the netting leaving the foliage to drop down the back into Recycling on the floor below.
  • Set up a comfortable place to work, with a bucket of garlic, a compost bucket, a pair of scissors, a ruler and easy access to a green net bag and a red net bag.
  • Some people like to mark off 2”and 2 ½” on the arm of the chair, a nearby wood structure, or their knee. This saves handling the ruler repeatedly.
  • Some people like to move the box fans for more or less fan action while working. Those that do this need to remember to reset the fans to blow on the garlic when they leave.

Snipping and sorting

  • Cut the roots off the garlic into a compost bucket. Cut as close as possible in one or two snips.
  • Cut the tops off the garlic, leaving a ¼ – ½” stub. Cutting too close reduces the storage life.
  • Do not remove any skin. We want long storage not pretty-pretty.
  • Decide if the bulb is dry. Feel the cut neck. The remains of the stem may have a Styrofoam texture. Should not be damp.
  • If damp at all, put the trimmed bulb on a rack to dry further.
  • If more than 10% are damp, cancel the shift or selectively pull dry bulbs from the netting.
  • If not damp, decide if it’s storeable.
  • If damaged, sprung apart or mushy anywhere, put it on the Use First rack.
  • If storeable, decide if it’s seed size and quality. If it could be between 2 and 2 ½”, measure it. If smaller or larger, put in a red bag. It’s for eating.
  • If between 2 and 2 ½” and in good shape (not obviously more than 10 cloves), put it in a green net bag. Green for Growing
  • When a bag if full enough (we’re not all Amazons), tie the neck closed and lay the bag down on the floor away from the windows, which let rain in.
  • At the end of the shift, return all scissors and rulers to the jar, take all compost material out, consider doing a Compost Run. Lay down any bags that are more than 1/3 full, as the weight of garlic in a vertical bag can damage the bulbs at the bottom. Leave no garlic in buckets. If necessary, gently set garlic on the floor boards, rather than leave it in a sweaty plastic bucket. Make sure no garlic will get rained on if rain blows in the window. Reset fans as needed. Unplug any no longer needed. Remove all hats, water bottles, spare clothing.
  • Periodically weigh the tied off green bags, make neck tags from masking tape, saying “Hardneck Garlic” and the weight. Use the bathroom scales. Weigh a person with and without a bag of garlic.
  • When we have enough seed garlic, stop using green bags, stop measuring. Simply snip, sort and bag. We need 140 pounds of hardneck seed (2013)
  • When all the hardneck garlic is dealt with, and not a moment before, record in the log book all the weights of the bags of garlic as you take them downstairs.

Storing

  • Take the green bags to the Garden Shed. Lay them on the top central shelf.
  • Take the red bags to the basement and lay them on the shelves in the cage there. Use one side of the cage only, unless you need more space.
  • Weigh the Use First hardneck garlic, record the amount in the log, take the Use First garlic to the kitchen. It does not need to be refrigerated now. 55-70°F is good.

More Snipping and sorting

  • When all the hardneck garlic is finished, and removed from the barn, start on the soft neck garlic, if it is dry enough.
  • Do the same as with the hardneck garlic. If possible use purple (eating) and orange (seed) bags, rather than green and red.
  • We need 40 lbs seed. Once we have that, stop measuring.
  • When all is done, weigh, label, record and store the garlic; clean up the mess, return the lawn chairs.
  • Ah, another successful garlic harvest!

Storing through the winter

  • When temperatures seem likely to drop to below 55°F in the basement, clear the top left shelves in the walk-in and move the eating garlic there. The low shelves near the compressor do not work well. Use the high and dry shelves. 32-39°F is also a good temperature range. Avoid 40-55°F, or the cloves will start to sprout.
Polish White - our  softneck garlic variety. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Polish White – our softneck garlic variety.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange