Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sorting Garlic

My labeled seed stock for next year, lined up from smallest to biggest.

Sorting my garlic makes me feel rich. It takes a couple hours to clean up the heads, choose next year's seed garlic, and organize by store-ability, but doing it each mid-summer is a pleasure. Here is my process.

1) After all the garlic that has been hanging post-harvest from racks in my shed is dry, I bring the bundles to a large work surface. There, I cut off the tops, leaving about an inch-and-a-half stump on each. Leaving some of the stump like this helps them stay fresh longer. I keep each variety separate from the next because, at this point, I have yet to choose the seed garlic for next year's crop. If there are any clumps of dirt or untrimmed roots, I take care of those at this point, too.



2) Once garlic heads are all cleaned up, I spend a little time with each variety, choosing the best heads to be next year's seed stock. There are several factors I look for when choosing seed stock. The first is the variety's growth habits; I only save plants that grew healthily in the garden. This year, one new-to-me variety exhibited symptoms of mosaic virus in each of the plants, so while I'll eat the garlic, I'm saving none of this variety to plant next year. Another factor in seed stock selection is size: the heads need to be large, as large as possible for that variety. While different varieties do differ in size, overall, choosing and planting large seed stock year after year helps ensure that your crop will be large as well. As well, I make sure there are no injuries or bruises anywhere on the head of garlic. In the picture below of Basque Turban, I've chosen the head on the left rather than the one on the right; even though the damage is small and apparently superficial, it may allow rot to enter, destroying the life upon which next year's crop depends.


At this time, I also look at the shape of each bulb. I choose only bulbs that are symmetrically round. Even though, in the picture below, the individual cloves may be a little larger in the head of Donostia Red on the left, the symmetrical nature of the one on the right makes it a keeper. Keeping and planting asymmetrical heads encourage the possibility of "brooming," which occurs when cloves develop multiple sprouts as they're growing, leading to split heads that do not store well.


Below, you can see an example of Morado de Pedronera that has "broomed." This variety has "broomed" in my garden the last couple years, even though I've tried to grow out only the symmetrical heads. It seems to have a strong tendency to split; I won't grow it again next year.


3) Once I've selected my seed stock heads for each variety, I use a Sharpie and write the name of the variety directly on each head. I'm likely to get my varieties mixed up if I don't carefully label them. I then place all the seed stock in a heavy paper bag and place the bag somewhere dark and temperate, in my case, a hallway closet.



4) While I'm sifting through each variety, I often find a head that just looks "wrong" for some reason: the color differs from its peers, it looks like it has some kind of sponginess, or it exhibits some other irregularity. I remove these bulbs to use right away in the kitchen. In case they are beginning to weaken, I don't want them with the rest of my stored garlic infecting it in any way. The three bulbs pictured below are bulbs I separated from the rest of the haul.


5) At this point, I'm left with my eating crop that I want to be able to easily access, but also be able to put away, rather than having hundreds of garlic heads rolling around my kitchen. I use large mesh bags, the kind in which one buys oranges or wood chunks, to store my garlic. I place the shorter storing varieties—the Turbans, Asiatics, Marbled Purple Stripes, Artichokes—in one bag, and the long-storing variety—the Creoles who stay fresh well into the next season's harvest—in another. I hang these bags in the storage area attached to my kitchen.


6) And finally, it is time to scrub and erase my plant tags so I can use them again later. I won't need to do anything more with my garlic other than eat it until this fall, when planting time rolls around again.



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