Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Growing Garlic in the Orchard

Vampires beware: McCollum Orchards expanded the garlic crop this year!

Last year, we posted about our initial experiments growing garlic.  We planted three varieties in the fall of 2011 and had our first commercial harvest in July 2012.  150 bulbs seemed like a lot at the time, but the resulting large, healthy, storable garlic bulbs convinced us to expand.  So, to commemorate the end of the Twilight teen vampire saga, we planted 1,200 cloves of garlic last November.  
New garlic bed with fresh leaf and straw mulch
In addition to increasing the number of cloves, we also added a few more varieties. Some were from the previous year’s crop and others we added from local sources. Here are the varieties we planted:

Garlic cloves from previous crop
  1. German- hardneck with white skin
  2. Siberian – hardneck with purple skins
  3. Northern White – porcelain
  4. Italian - softneck
  5. Old World Sicilian - softneck
  6. Wild field & Wild forest garlic – mystery and spicy
  7. Lotus (Turban)  - an early harvest variety
Wild Garlic Found on the Farm
While clearing eight acres of overgrown farmland last fall, we discovered two different stands of garlic growing wild on the property. One variety grew in an open field. It had smallish cloves and tasty scapes. The other had large cloves and was found in the overgrown woods near an old burn pile.  A Cornell Cooperative Extension agent thinks it may be an old commercial garlic that got tossed out decades ago and took root near the pile. It was healthy and has a great flavor, so we harvested some to see if we could cultivate it.

Large-Clove wild variety found on farm
Another variety comes from the ‘Old World.’ Kind neighbors shared with us garlic that was originally brought over from Sicily by their parents. They have grown it in their garden ever since. 

How We Grow
Last year, we cut scapes in June and harvested bulbs in July.  We built a drying rack in the old fruit packing shed to cure them for nearly two months.  We had some garlic available at the farm stand that was great for cooking and sold out instantly. The biggest bulbs were stored for re-seeding to build up the crop. Like most vegetable seeds, the bigger cloves will produce bigger bulbs. 
Garlic Harvest 2012
This year, we tilled a 6x100-foot bed in the pear orchard. It was prepped with local slow-release organic chicken manure fertilizer from Kreher’s Poultry Farm.  We planted by hand on a 6” grid with space for a drip irrigation line. Everything was covered with layers of straw and mulched leaves to protect the cloves from frost heave during this winter. We’ll lay drip irrigation line once the ground begins to dry out in May.  Scapes will be cut after summer solstice.  Once the scapes are cut, the plant puts all of its energy into growing the bulb underground. The 2013 garlic crop will be harvested and cured a few weeks later.
Measuring the new bed
Learning by Planting
Learning from last year, we will improve our growing technique for garlic. We will make sure they are properly irrigated this time. They need about an inch of water per week. Last summer we kept waiting for it to rain, but it never did. We will also add more nutrients to the soil in the form of organic slow-release fertilizer.

On the positive side, we chose the right varieties – hardy hardneck – for this climate. We also ordered large seed cloves, resulting in bigger bulbs. Cutting the scapes at the right time caused the bulbs to grow almost three times larger than ones without the scapes removed. Mulching heavily helped protect them in the winter and building a good drying rack for curing helped them store well until re-planting.
The same variety garlic with and without scape
As the birds start returning and the air gets warmer, green garlic shoots can now been seen peaking out of their beds of mulch.  It makes us hungry for all the basil and tomatoes we are planting this spring to combine with our garlic for a delicious summer pesto. It’ll be here before we know it!

It's Springtime!  Here comes the garlic!

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