Monday, May 17, 2010

Can You Smell Me From Where You're Sitting?

I've got more life coming at me lately than I know what to do with. It has been a remarkably full spring, full of the very good and the very bad. The very good includes 110 of my AP English Language students, more than any other group in a single year in our school history, taking the exam last week. The bad includes a horrible act of gang violence that swung its fist smack into that same group of students. Truthfully though, it hasn't been all hard work and hard times, there have been a couple bouts of hilarity to help balance out the spring, and now, as the end of the year is in sight, I am fully expecting more of that hilarity. We all deserve it.

I tried to tell my yard to take a time out because I just couldn't keep up with it in the last month or so, but like an angry preteen girl, it just swung its ponytails at me and picked up the pace. I'll spare you most of the details and get down to what I know you're here for: harvesting and curing garlic.

Tearing open a head of fresh garlic will change someone's attitude towards garlic forever. The translucent tissues around each clove are vibrant pinks, salmons, and purples. Each clove is fat and pearly and juicy-crunchy. When I smash a fresh clove with the flat of my knife, juice and fresh chunks of garlic are likely to end up all over the immediate work area. And the smell. Oh my.

Already this spring, I've pulled a four of my twelve varieties, and each that were ready to harvest were Asiatic Turban varieties. These hard-neck varieties tend to mature early. I removed their scapes (emerging blossoms, great in stir fries and sautees) about three weeks ago, and harvested Shilla, Sonoran, and Red Janice last week and Blossom this week. Of the four, only Shilla had I grown before, and I was impressed last year by its powerful, unique flavor and its size. Red Janice competes this year in size, especially for so early a garlic. One of my Artichoke varieties (softnecks that perform very well in California), Red Toch, is ready to harvest, but we got an unexpected drizzle today, so I'll wait until tomorrow or Wednesday, when the soil is dry, to harvest.

After the hardneck garlics send up their scape, I stop watering all my garlics so they can dry out a bit for easy harvest and longer shelf life. The garlic tells me it is ready to be pulled when the leaves start to die from the bottom, and there are about only six strong green leaves left. To harvest, I hold the base of the garlic firmly with my left hand (I'm right handed), slide a small spade into the soil about four inches away from base of the garlic, far enough away to avoid nicking the bulb, and begin to pull. If the garlic doesn't readily release from the dry soil, I tilt the handle of the spade away from the garlic plant to give a little leverage. At this point, it is very important to not bruise or damage the garlic, because doing so greatly reduces how long it will last in storage. And, when it comes to garlic, I'm a greedy mofo. Losing garlic to rot just pisses me off.

I gently shake loose soil off each head, then bring them to a shady, well-ventilated, dry place to begin the first stage of curing. In the past, I laid them in single layers in the shade of my patio, but this year, I laid them along shelves in my airy shed. I left them there for four days as the exterior, dirty wrappers dried out. Letting the external wrappers dry out allows me to them clean the garlic quickly and effectively; I just grab a lower, dried out leaf or two and pull down towards the bulb. I pull the whole dirty external wrapper off that way and leave a clean bulb. Finally, I trim of the long roots with sturdy scissors.

Now clean, the garlic still needs to cure. Some people hang garlic at this point to dry for a week or two, but I don't have the lines I plan to install yet up in my shed, so the shelves will do for this as well. The garlic will need at least week, perhaps longer, before cutting of the stems. When I do cut the stems off, I cut a couple inches above the base of the plant. I can then place the garlic in mesh bags (you know, the ones that onions and oranges come in at markets) to store in a dark, cool place. I give the largest and most attractive bulbs special attention, storing them away in labeled paper bags to be pulled out next fall and planted.

I wrote once before about how tomatoes turn cooks into gardeners; if tomatoes pull a cook into the garden, it is garlic that will keep her there.

If you are interested in learning more about growing garlic (rather than just harvesting it), you can find a presentation I gave on growing garlic here.


This post is part of Harvest Mondays, graciously hosted by Daphne's Dandelions.


michelle said...

My garlic is just a few weeks behind yours. The turbans are sizing up quickly and the artichokes aren't far behind. The silverskins have been much slower. Which variety is that lovely striped one, it's beautiful! I am anticipating the first whole roasted head of garlic, it's so good when the garlic is new.

Amy said...

Mmm, I wish I could smell you. I'm trying to imagine. It's fascinating to read about the various kinds of garlic you are growing. It is making me crave both garlic and a place to grow some!

Christina said...

Michelle: That last garlic, the one that I took pictures of while cleaning up, is a Blossom. I haven't tasted anything but the Shilla yet, but I can't wait to dig into all of it. And yes, freshly harvested roasted garlic is a fine, fine treat.

Amy: Hey, you're local, right? I can drop some off for you so you can taste test for yourself. Shoot me an email and we can arrange a drop off.

GS said...

They look beautiful. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

When will we have computers that allow us to smell something?

Stefaneener said...

That helps so much! I was just thinking it's getting close to time out here.

I can see from your post, how people slide into garlic fanaticism. Yesterday I was trying to explain to someone why I grew my own, and stopped when I could see their eyes glazing as I said, "There are hard necked varieties and soft necked ones. . ."

Must. Grow. More.

Daphne Gould said...

What beautiful garlic. I dried the garlic in my garage last year. Everytime I went in I got a shock with the strong garlic smell.

Dave @ HappyAcres said...

That is some lovely garlic you have there! Mine is about 2 months away from digging. Then we will have a tasting party!

ann said...

I am such a bad gardener! I was in such a hurry to get my garlic into the garden ahead of something last fall, that I never labeled any of my varieties! Oh bad Ann! But they're all doing well, so fingers crossed!

Christina said...

AOF: I know. They should exist by now!

Stefaneener: Maybe we can work out a way to swap varieties when it comes to planting time again.

Daphne: The same is happening in my shed right now with the early varieties. It's wonderful.

Villager: A tasting party, what a great idea! I might just have to steal it.

Ann: You should be able to tell the differences between some of them just by their leaf structure and growing habits, if not the strains, at least groups in which they belong (ie Artichoke, Purple Stripe, Porcelain, etc). But, it really doesn't matter as long as you keep track of what you like best and what grows well. Soon, it will be the "Ann's Best" strain anyway!

Lisa said...

Can you tell me when garlic is planted in Northern California? So much of my East Coast garden knowledge is so useless... October, perhaps?

Christina said...

Hi Lisa and Robb: Here in Southern California, I plant in very eraly October for harvest now until mid-June, depending on the variety. At the end of the post, I linked up to a powerpoint I made for a class I taught at the local community center on growing garlic in Southern California. Though it is aimed at more southern latitudes, you may find it helpful. I can understand your frustration at transferring knowledge--but I'm so happy you're doing so! Also, I stopped by your site and am incredibly impressed by your bees! AWESOME!

Anonymous said...

Oh yea! I harvested mine on time, then. I have them drying in the closet and whenever I open the closet door I salivate.

Christina said...

AH: I'm glad you're enjoying the smell. Hooray for garlic!

say what? said...

You've convinced me to just let the bulbs dry next year instead of washing them first! Washing 100 bulbs wasn't a big deal this year, but 700+ next year? I'll have enough trouble figuring out where to dry/cure them!