Yikes! I don’t know about everyone else, but harvest time came nearly 2 weeks early this year! Usually I plant around Halloween with the idea that a later sowing will delay the harvest until after the 4th of July holiday. This year, however, the plants fooled me.
I can only figure it’s the weather. We have had one of the driest seasons in 116 years, including two periods of scorching heat (by our standards). The drought, combined with frequent winds strong enough to blow chairs off our deck, have made keeping on top of watering especially tricky this year.
Watering is such a balancing act. The garlic needs good drainage; too wet a soil (and other damp conditions) invite molds and fungi. Too dry, however, and the bulbs shrivel and wilt in our choking, clay-based soil. Mulch can help conserve moisture; but it also keeps the plants a bit too cool, provides a safe haven for insects and rodents, and encourages fungal growth. And then there’s the advice not to water the last few weeks before harvest, assuming you know when that is. We hit a hot spell late June – to water or not to water? Last year, the molds wiped out a lot of my crop. I didn’t want to take a chance.
And so I bit my nails as I watched the plants, obviously a bit stressed, as their bottom leaves browned and they neared the end of their life cycle.
I could only think that if it is true that flavors intensify under adverse growing conditions, my garlic is bound to be particularly strong this year.
When to harvest is a bit more art than science. We all like to say that when we don’t really know what we’re doing, even though we’ve been doing it for years and years. But the fact is, the bulb can increase a lot during its last month. Harvest too early? Wimpy bulbs. Too late? No storage value; earwigs and other bugs move in. Better a little early than late.
Sometimes there is only one way to tell: test a few. “Green” (i.e., uncured) garlic is delightfully mellow. Gently cooked, it spreads on a crumpet like soft butter…and if that isn’t reason enough to test whether its “ready,” I don’t know what is!
Dig the bulbs when the bottom leaves die off but a few green ones remain. Sometimes, though, with the tips yellowed and the bottom leaves brown, and if the plant is looking pretty dry, you start thinking that harvesting is an act of mercy. Just do it.
And now that I am finally getting them out of the ground, what do we get? RAIN! Lots of it.
Aaaggh! Will the dreaded mold and fungus return? I don’t know. I will do my best to chase them off with good air circulation. And wait.
In the meantime, the plants that remain are breathing a sigh of relief, and I have to admit, that rain feels mighty good.
Gardening is like that. So many little things along the way can derail the whole project. You tackle it like it’s all under control, but in the end, you realize nothing is in your control. And you just appreciate it for what it is.