Thursday, July 21, 2011

No More Vampires

I know everyone's been really concerned with all the vampires on Williams campus, so you'll be pleased to know I harvested about half of the total garlic yesterday (Wednesday), and the rest will be harvested at the Friday work party tomorrow.

the round garlic bed, about half harvested
So how do you harvest garlic? First, you have to figure out when the correct time to harvest is. It's a sort of tricky process and lots of people have their own policies, but the general recommendation is to wait for the bottom few leaves to turn completely brown, and the top ones to be starting to brown (but still have a fair amount of green). Some say the only way to know for certain is to actually dig up the head, slice it open, and verify that the bulbs fill up the space. If you wait too long, then the bulbs will grow too large and will pop out from the head, and not be store-able.

The actual harvesting is a lot like digging for potatoes. You first loosen the soil, with either a large fork (a potato fork works well) or shovel, being careful not to accidentally break apart the garlic heads with the fork/shovel. I used a shovel and loosened all of the soil first, and then went back through and gently rocked the stalks and pulled out each plant.
wheelbarrow, early in the garlic harvesting

Once garlic is harvested, it should be brought to the shade as quickly as possible. (Soon after I took that picture, I moved the wheelbarrow to the shade.) 

After harvesting, the next step is curing. Fresh garlic can be used right away (and is delicious!), but in order to store/keep for an extended period of time, garlic must be cured (or dried). I decided to wheelbarrow all of the garlic over to Harper House, and set up a curing space on the porch. 

freshly harvested garlic head
round garlic bed, post harvest
So, after finishing the entire round bed (see how full the wheelbarrow is?), I brought the garlic over the Harper House, along with some old window screens we had found in Kellogg House earlier this year and kept in case they came in handy for drying. Garlic can be cured by hanging it in bunches or laying it on screens; the important bit is that air can access all sides of the heads, and consequently all sides can dry fully. The room should also be relatively dry and not sunny. The Harper porch actually has beautiful windows, but we luckily found the blinds and were able to pull them up and shade the room.

After the garlic has cured, we'll be able to store it for up to about four months, though maybe longer or shorter depending on the exact environment in which it is stored. Before storing we'll trim the stalks down to an inch above the head, trim the roots, and shake any remaining dirt free. Never should the garlic heads be washed, so as to prevent early spoiling. We aren't quite sure yet where they'll be stored, but ideally somewhere with a relatively cool, stable temperature.

garlic drying on screen,
screen propped on two trash cans
garlic drying on screen,
screen propped up on
window sill and table

finishing set up: two screens on window sill, one in center
of room. remember, this is only half of the harvest!

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