Harvesting carrots and beets, weeding, mulching.

Nadia eggplant. Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Nadia eggplant.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Now that we’ve got the garlic harvest behind us, as well as the June potato planting, we are turning our attention to weeding and mulching. We have hoed our leeks, our recent corn plantings, and the newest beans, squash and cucumbers. We have sowed some more beans, and some more cabbage and broccoli for fall. We weeded and mulched the eggplant, okra and slicing tomatoes.Eggplants are almost ready! Tomatoes are getting ripe! We walked through the watermelon patch and pulled out the weeds poking through the biodegradable plastic mulch, where it has started to crumble. Last week we did the same with the sweet potato patch.

Rows of Roma paste tomatoes, some on bioplastic, some no-till. Credit Bridget Aleshire

We’re getting ready to pull the weeds in the big Roma paste tomato patch, which also has biodegradable plastic mulch. Usually most of the patch is in a mowed no-till cover crop, but last winter we had colder-than-usual weather, and poorer-than-usual stands of legumes in our cover crops. So we decided to add compost, disk the cover crop in and use bioplastic for the whole Roma plot. As I said in my previous posts about bioplastics, they are especially good for vining crops, and although tomatoes can be grown sprawled on the ground, we don’t do that. We stake ours and use Florida String Weaving.

String-weaving tomatoes. Credit Kathryn Simmons

String-weaving tomatoes. Credit Kathryn Simmons

So when the bioplastic starts to break up, we need to cover the ground with something else. We unroll big round hay bales between the rows. (We planned for this, so the rows are just the right space apart.)

Another big task this week (and next) is clearing our spring sown carrots and beets, for storage in our walk-in cooler. Then we’ll steadily eat our way through them, as well as pickle some beets. Rumor has it that we still have some pickled beets from last year in the basement, although I haven’t checked that out. Carrots and beets get woody if left in the ground too long, especially in hot weather. So it’s better for us to harvest them all and store them under refrigeration.

Actually we had to jump to it and clear one bed of carrots this morning, because the bed is needed next Monday for more sowings of fall brassica seedlings. We’ll add compost, till it, then rake. The crew cleared the five 90′ rows in just half an hour, to my amazement. We got 3.5 big bags. I don’t think anyone weighed them, but they were the standard size 50# carrot bags, but not so full. Maybe 150# total. They were sown 3/15. We have two beds that were sown earlier, but we don’t need those beds quite so urgently!

Danvers Half-long carrots. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Danvers Half-long carrots. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

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