Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Anxious Newbie Gardener and Her Garlic

My garden. Notice the garlic in the third row back.
Other veggies include zucchini, banana peppers, Swiss
chard, carrots, peas, beans, potatoes, buttercrunch lettuce,
Boston marrow squash, shallots, and cucumbers.

I am still very new to gardening. Last year I had my first in-ground garden, as opposed to the small container garden I had the previous year. This year I expanded my garden to include produce that I use often in my kitchen — garlic and shallots were among that group.

I ordered my garlic bulbs from Johnny's Selected Seeds last fall, German Extra-Hardy and Russian Red — these varieties are good for the Northeast. I planted them in a mixture of organic garden soil, compost, and manure in early November and covered them with leaves, as instructed by Ed Smith in The Vegetable Gardener's Bible. And in the spring I picked up shallot bulbs at Whitney's, a local farm and garden store. I planted those according to the book's instructions as well.

A handful of garlic scapes that I harvested a few weeks ago

My garlic and shallots sprouted and grew. I cut the scapes off the garlic to allow for larger garlic bulbs (as suggested in The Veg Bible) — I added them to stir-fries and sautéed them with (store-bought) garlic and green beans for a side dish. And now, a few weeks later, I think the garlic and shallots are ready to harvest.

Per the photos and instructions in the book, they look ready. Only, is it too soon? The Vegetable Gardner's Bible says garlic is ready to harvest in late summer, and it's only the beginning of July. Are there any seasoned gardeners out there that can take a look and let me know if I should harvest now or wait a few more weeks?

Take a look at my photos, and let me know what you think:

This photo is from The Vegetable Gardener's Bible.
It is what I based my "I think they're ready" on.
The caption in the book reads:
We're ready! Garlic is ready to harvest when the bottom two or three leaves have turned yellow.

This is one of my garlic plants.
See how the bottom two leaves have turned yellow.

More garlic from my garden. Some of the plants
have two completely yellow bottom leaves while on
others the second bottom leaf is just beginning to yellow.

Garlic ready or almost ready in my garden?

I had also begun thinking that my shallots might be ready to pick, too. Although the book offered no photo of what shallots that are ready to harvest look like, Ed did describe verbally what to look for. This is what Ed Smith says about ready shallots: "Harvest shallots when the leaves have begun to turn brown and flop over."

Here is a photo of what my shallots look like:

They look brown and flopping to me. And my garlic looks ready to me, too. So, being the anxious newbie gardener that I am, I set out to see for myself what the bulbs in the dirt looked like. Actually, I was fairly certain they were ready. So before I pulled even the first one out of the ground, I set up my curing station — a simple construction of a pallet set over milk crates in the middle of the yard.

My curing station is made of a pallet set over
three milk crates in the middle of the yard.

Ed says: Cure the plants in full sun for 2 to 3 weeks,
until the leaves, stems, and roots are thoroughly dry.
Cover with a tarp at night and when it rains.

After setting up my curing station, I grabbed a trowel and garden claw and dug up a garlic bulb. It looked smaller than I expected, so I figured I would look at one more before making my decision as to whether or not they were all ready to harvest. The next one was even smaller. Then I dug up one of the shallots; that, too, did not look ready.

I replanted the smaller of the two garlic bulbs and the shallot. I set the first garlic bulb out to cure. Before I replanted, I took photos. I am hoping these photos will further aid you in your advice to me.

The first garlic bulb pulled from the dirt

I dusted off the dirt from the first bulb and pulled the outer
leaves back. The second bulb I replanted after the photo was
taken. It was a little smaller than the first, so I thought it could
use more time in the ground to grow.

The harvested shallot looks a little too small, too.

A closer look at the harvested shallot. I replanted it in
the garden, thinking it could benefit from more growing time.

I have 26 more garlic bulbs in the ground. Should they stay in a little longer? And I planted 10 shallot cloves. From the looks of this "bulb" (not sure if that is the right term for the shallot cluster here), I have about 5 small shallots. Will this grow larger and into 5 big shallots?

Any advice from seasoned gardeners will be graciously accepted.

Thanks in advance!

— Kristy L. Rustay, the Newbie Gardener


Unknown said...

Your garden looks great! Regarding garlic, I always dig it up when half the leaves on each plant are dead. I have been growing it for many years, and I have never had a head much larger than in your picture. Most are just about that size, and that is the size I see by the thousand at the Garlic Festival each year. Mine is ready to harvest now (some I already have), and it is early by several weeks.

Steve Asbell said...

Even though tropical gardening is my area of expertise, I do wish that I had the room for garlic and shallots so that I could incorporate them into my Thai and Indonesian cooking. Maybe I'll just pant a couple of shallots next to the lemongrass and gingers in my Balinese Courtyard Garden. Good luck and I admire your efforts!

sharynlove said...

Since you have quite a few still left in the ground, why not experiment and leave them there awhile longer. At least till the stalks turns completely brown.

Kristy Rustay said...

Thanks for your comments. Some of the garlic plants are more yellow than others. I think I will harvest the more yellow plants this weekend and leave the others in for another week or so. It is also good to know that my bulbs aren't smaller than what is usually harvested in this area. I guess I am just used to seeing the large garlic bulbs in the grocery stores.

It's also good to know that the garlic is early this year — we have had much nicer weather than the past few summers! (Thanks, Aunt Kristy!)

I'm still thinking the shallots should remain a bit longer. Does anyone have previous experience growing these?

Unknown said...

I harvested almost all of my garlic today, plus my shallots.

All of the garlic is the size of the one in your photo, except for one variety, which are somewhat larger. This is a reddish-skinned variety that I bought at Gardeners Supply up in Burlington last fall. It was called German (something). I chose it because it is supposed to be mild.

This is my first year successfully growing shallots. I planted a few last fall, same time as garlic - in mid to late October. You do not plant shallots very deep, so some of the cloves had worked their way out of the ground over the winter and were mush.

The ones harvested today all have three, four or five cloves each. The cloves are not large, but I don't think the ones I purchased and planted last fall were either. Almost all the foliage was dead when I dug them today. I think yours are coming along nicely.

Mine look pretty good, and I'm looking forward to using them.

Kristy Rustay said...

Good to know. I think I will pull most of my garlic tomorrow.

Do you cure yours outside for 2-3 weeks like Ed Smith suggests in The Vegetable Gardener's Bible? My one concern about curing outside is that if it begins to rain while I am at work I will not be able to cover it. Is getting rained on that big a deal? Are there other curing methods that can be used?

I planted the shallots in mid-May. Maybe you should give spring planting a try — The Veg Bible says to plant cloves in early spring and doesn't mention anything about fall planting.

I think I will wait at least one more week before harvesting the shallots — I am hoping for slightly larger cloves.

Amanda said...

Wow, so cool that you dove in like this. Ryan is so proud of what you've grown and the way you've documented it! I have been flirting with the idea of composting. This may just be the kick in the pants I need to do it :)

Kristy Rustay said...

I definitely recommend starting a little garden and composting. The garden is a lot of work at first, but then it's just general maintenance after that. I started small one last year and expanded the garden to grow a few more things this year. It is very rewarding & tasty (even my husband appreciates it, as you know).

I will admit, I spent a fortune on garden soil, compost, and manure this year. I am hoping my compost bin produces the nutrients I need so I don't have to spend as much on soil next year. You could start composting now for your garden next year and save yourself some $$.

Good Luck!

Unknown said...

Just getting back here - probably too late to answer your question about drying garlic.

I have always hung my garlic in small bunches on a screened-in porch. When you posted you were going to set yours outside, I was wondering what you would do if it rained when you weren't home.

Thanks for the shallot suggestion. I will plant in the spring next year.

Kristy Rustay said...

I wish I had, but I don't have a screened-in porch. On Tuesday when it was rainy I brought the garlic into the kitchen — yeah, well, the house stunk like garlic when I came home, so I won't be doing that again. But, the iffy weather and me being at work does pose some problems. Today, for example, I left them covered, but it is only supposed to rain later this afternoon. They probably could benefit from the hot weather right now, but I couldn't chance it.

I still have about 16 plants to harvest. I plan to pull them this weekend. I think once I have them all out of the ground I might ask my grandparents if I can bring my garlic and curing station to their house and have them tend to if for me. My Gram loves to do this kind of thing, so I don't see any problems there. Plus they are home all the time — the second a drop falls Gram will be out there covering it up. So that's my new plan.