Garlic

As our farmer’s market and local farm store fill up with fresh beans, new potatoes, radishes and lettuce, I’m cultivating patience and perseverance here at home. The days seem to fly past, and it’s already time to plant for a late summer or fall crop. Once again, we’ve learned the hard way how quickly weeds and grass can take over the garden without proper mulching and hoeing; writing this summer update has helped me reflect and plan for next year. I’m also excited for the upcoming garlic festival in Hutchinson because I need more reputable garlic seed stock to plant this fall.

Had I put in a good crop of early peas, radishes, greens, carrots and beets, we would be swimming in fresh produce right now. Instead, I have been grateful for the lettuce plants that popped up in early June and the delicious salads we made. The greens are starting to bolt in the heat, and I’m eager to collect the little seeds to save for next year. One silver lining to late planting is quick germination of seeds in the warm weather, and the tomatoes, peppers, beans and potatoes are thriving. Succession sowing of lettuce, beans, squash and root vegetables over the next few weeks should yield a consistent harvest in September and October.

Some potato beetles managed to hatch and chew away at some of the potato foliage. I’ve been picking the larvae off and need to go through my patch checking under the leaves for eggs at least once a week to head them off. Next year, I will be more diligent at patrolling for eggs and mature beetles, because they multiply so quickly. I have not mulched my potatoes at all, but they are flowering now, which marks the beginning of tuber growth. My next experiment will be mulching them thickly with old hay, and seeing if tubers form above the soil as well.

A couple transplanting experiments failed, while two others succeeded. It’s possible the rhubarb and strawberry plants I put in late May needed to be watered every day, due to shallow, fragile root systems; both seemed to flourish after transplant, so I got complacent, and when I checked them after two weeks, they had withered away. Rhubarb crowns and strawberry shoots are best transplanted earlier in the spring (or in the fall), before they grow too large. However, my chives adapted well to a late, lazy transplant, as did some raspberry plants I got from a friend and put in early June.

Finally, the garlic, was planted late last fall from saved seed stock. Most of the cloves germinated, but some mysteriously stopped growing and then disappeared. Garlic is not loved by many pests, so I’m still baffled at how my plot of about thirty cloves dwindled to less than fifteen. The patch was mulched heavily, but the canary grass and weeds quickly encroached; while there has been consistent rain, this competition for water and nutrients can hinder the growth of garlic bulbs.

A fun bonus to growing hardneck garlic varieties are the immature flower shoots (scapes), which are like a garlic version of green onions; they have a milder garlic flavor, crisp texture, and can be added to pesto, salads, tacos, and more. You can browse the Minnesota Grown directory for a local garlic producer, if you want to try fresh scapes, or check out Alternative Roots Farm in Madelia, Minn. (they will ship scapes to you). If you want to plant Minnesota heirloom garlic, or learn more about it, you can attend the Minnesota Garlic Festival on Aug. 10, at the McLeod County Gairgrounds in Hutchinson. Details on this zero waste, family-friendly event can be found on the Sustainable Farming Association website. From cooking demonstrations, to games, to garlic ice cream, this is a great place to meet Minnesota farmers and begin your own garlic growing adventure.

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