Lessons learnt …

Lessons learnt …

The 2015 garlic harvest is approaching at a rapid rate of knots – so I thought it would be great to take a moment and reflect on all that we have learnt over the last twelve months … and, by crikey, it has been a lot …

Harvest 2014 went pretty smoothly – asides from the occasional “get thy backside home from work now, we need to harvest” phone call.

Our soil is heavy clay so the usual “undercutting” bar method of harvest doesn’t work – we’d either rip the bar apart or pull the guts out of the tractor – so decided to trial a Sweep and the Sweep worked a treat. A Sweep is a forward pointing blade, with an arrowhead at the tip, that scoops under the garlic, popping it to the surface.

The only downside is that the Sweep liked to rise to the surface of the soil, when being dragged behind the tractor, instead of staying under the bulbs … problem solved … a extra few kilos of weight to keep it in place, and I surfed the Sweep up and down the rows.

The garlic was easily picked up and car-booted, or tractored, to the shed.

Lessons learnt with drying …

… we knew with heavy clay that, if we left the roots on the garlic, we would be susceptible to basal rot. When curing, the very outer skins of the garlic needs to dry as quickly as possible – preferably within 7 days – and any soil left on the roots would attract moisture up into the bulb through the base. The roots were quickly dispatched with constantly sharpened secateurs.

… we left the green tops and laid the garlic into the drying crates (bread crates in disguise) … the garlic appeared to dry really well, but we ended up with around 30% of our Italian Purple suffering clove rot. Anything remotely dodgy had to be discarded.

We’ve since learnt the rot was caused by to much humidity around the drying bulbs – and green leaf gives off a heck of a lot of humidity – not helped by a fairly humid summer and some wild storms that lashed rain into the drying shed and all over the garlic … my eternal and humble apologies to a dear friend who tried to rescue the garlic mid-storm and ended up cowering behind the rows as a mini-sleet-laden-cyclone tore through … this year we have (hopefully) rain-proofed the shed.

As for the humidity – there is nothing we can do about the weather itself, but we can control how much green matter is left to transpire moisture amongst the garlic. We are debating whether to completely “top” the garlic, or leave 30% of the leaf on. By completely “topping” the bulb will end up around 10% lighter as there is no moisture to draw into the bulb from the leaves. At this stage, the jury is opting towards leaving 30% of leaf matter on.

… stacking the crates further apart will allow more breeze to circulate – and we have fans on standby.

… note to self … do not book an overseas holiday the week before planting, and leave Mr Pokolbin Purple at home to crack (break up the cloves) 100+kg of garlic by himself.

This year was the first year we machine planted. It wasn’t a very technical machine. Simply four steel pipes, with a sharpened point at the base, attached to the front of the tractor carry-all through which to drop the garlic cloves – and four large plastic pots full of garlic cloves ready to be dropped … oh … and a couple of milk crates to sit on.

Instead of taking six days by hand, the entire crop was planted in one. Yeehah!

Lessons learnt from planting …

… really fat cloves like to get stuck in the steel pipes, which the “dropper” doesn’t realise until the entire pipe has filled up with cloves, a large section of row has been missed in planting and it’s a bugger of a job to unplug with a bent piece of wire and a pipe-hitting spanner. Wider pipes next year.

… as the tractor undulates along the rows, the planting depth goes up and down. Garlic doesn’t like to be planted deep and, in our heavy soils, if planted deeply sideways (or upside down) the cloves struggle to turn themselves right way up to start growing. Too deep means growth is delayed – and smaller bulbs. Will try a few different planting methods next year.

… thicker mulch you &$#@! Okay, we didn’t mulch as thick as I would’ve like, and I won’t go into detail here as to why the air was blue and the tractor driver went on strike. Let’s just say he has learnt his lesson by spending a few weeks hand weeding. Mulch will be applied as per instruction next year.

… no fallow rows. Another trial this year was to leave every third row fallow (un-planted) to allow somewhere to rake the leftover mulch off the garlic before harvesting (otherwise the Sweep clogs up). Won’t be doing that again. The fallow section of weeds and grasses simply adored the improved soil and quickly caused a riot – leaping with unabashed dexterity into the garlic rows themselves. Even constant mowing and ripping along the edges didn’t help much.

However, despite our steep learning curve – and there is still much to learn – this year we’ve managed to grow a pretty decent sized, and healthy looking, crop.

One big plus was our choice to grow three completely different types of garlic – Italian Pink Italian PurpleRojo de Castro – that harvest 4 weeks apart each.  Not only does the mean we can supply a dynamic range of garlic flavours, we get a break between harvests to process each variety properly … at least we got something right!

Can’t wait to implement our lessons over the next year

Wine – friends – and take time to smell the garlic




Posted by Liz