Garlic harvest day

Every fall, we plant garlic from seed. A garlic seed is one clove of garlic. We harvest the crop the following season just after midsummer. Garlic is the one crop we save seed from for planting the entire next crop.

On a perfect July morning, gardeners from sixteen households harvested the entire garlic crop—six 25-foot-long rows with six planted furrows each. An overflow box outside the fence held elephant garlic. Garlic and onions are among the few crops deer here won’t eat.
The harvesting part is easy: Grasp each garlic plant by the leaves and pull the head out of the ground. They’re sturdy plants and not especially deep rooted.
This is how freshly pulled garlic heads look. Each one has four to six cloves or, as we call hundreds of them, seeds.
Gardeners sort the carefully selected seed garlic by variety.

The seed garlic stays separated by variety so we can track what we plant where. These photos show about half of our seed stock.

Gardeners clip off the leaves and add them the the garden waste windrow.
Later, when the seed garlic heads are dry and it’s closer to planting time, we’ll send them home with gardeners to gently separate into cloves, aka seeds. We’ll plant them in early November for harvesting next year.
The variety we grow the least of is elephant garlic with each head’s four gigantic cloves, more of of a leek relative. Garlic aficionados may not be as interested in elephant garlic; its flavor is subtler and less complex. But elephant garlic imparts that flavorful snap to prepared foods and may be well tolerated by people whose digestive systems don’t like garlic. E garlic is more complicated to grow than regular garlic, with a two-year production cycle, certain heads that come out as one giant round clove, and other considerations we haven’t quite sifted through, which hasn’t stopped us from enjoying this harvest.
Gardeners who participated in the harvest selected their share to take home. Each household’s share was ninety heads (you read that right) of regular garlic and ten heads of elephant garlic. These gardeners preferred to clip the leaves before taking their share home.
Other gardeners retain the leaves, using them to hang garlic in cool, dry storage areas. You may have seen braided garlic leaves; that’s soft neck garlic. We grow only hard neck varieties, so these garlic heads were hung with string.

Whether to clip or retain the leaves is a matter of preference as well as plant health. A pest with increasing presence in the Northeast is the leek moth, which gardeners here are trained to address. Leek moths enter garlic plants from the top and eat their way down toward the head. Harvesting garlic earlier and clipping the leaves—at least all the leek-moth-affected leaves if not all of them—ensures that gardeners, not just leek moths, get to enjoy this delicious, nutritious crop.

Gardeners take home their shares. What do they do with all that garlic? Methods include using it fresh—simply peel the fresh garlic and prepare it as usual, raw or cooked—delicious! Hanging garlic, as in the previous image, and allowing it time to cure (dry and harden) extends its life and sharpens the flavors. With this large a garlic share, gardeners may need to plan for even longer storage. Peel the fresh cloves and freeze them in air-tight containers. Defrost for the usual uses for months and months to come. Or peel cloves, submerge them in a jar of salt brine, and enjoy sparkling-fresh lightly pickled cloves for months. Or, since basil and other herbs and flavorful greens are abundant, make piles of pesto, eat as much as you can, freeze the rest in ice cube trays, pop the cubes into air-tight containers, and freeze for a year of summer tastes long into the winter.

The garden always shares food with our fellow community members. This week, we delivered 50 pounds of fresh garlic for the Montpelier food pantry shoppers and to Christ Episcopal Church and the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, whose ministry includes preparing and serving free weekly community lunches and distributing fresh food to community members.
Garden garlic in the food pantry’s fridge awaiting shoppers to take and savor it.