When Should I Harvest Garlic?

Back in February, I told y'all all about how I fertilize, weed, and mulch to prepare for an awesome garlic harvest. Well, that magical season is upon us, so now I'm here to show you how to know when it's the right time to dig up your precious garlicky treasures. 

I grow two different kinds of garlic, hard neck and soft neck. I like to grow soft neck varieties, because you can make garlic braids from them. I like hard neck varieties, because the cloves are usually a bit bigger, and they also send up garlic scapes. 

There! That's a garlic scape.

There! That's a garlic scape.

Scapes are the blossom that the hard neck garlic plants send up just a few weeks before it's time to harvest. They are DELICIOUS. If you grow hard neck garlic, you should definitely pinch off the scapes and cook with them. They're divine. 

Usually, 2-4 weeks after you've harvested your scapes, the bottom leaves of your garlic plant start turning yellow and withering. With soft neck varieties, you'll see this yellowing without having the scapes tip you off first. When about one third of the leaves turn yellow, I know it's time to dig up the garlic. 

So here's how I do it. First, I always pull one or two bulbs up and cut them open, just to make sure I can see the cloves and everything looks like it's ready to go. If it looks like the cloves are fully formed, I go through my raised bed with a potato fork and loosen up the soil really well. Then, it's time to pull. Pull from the base to make sure you don't break off the stems. 

I move my garlic to the shade immediately and begin spacing them out on tables or hanging them up in my shed. Do not wash or trim them first! I gently tap the dirt off and hang them up just as they are. Your garlic needs 2-3 weeks in a cool, shady, well-ventilated room in order to cure. When garlic cures, the outside dries up, while the inside cloves are still moist and flavorful. After it's finished curing, you can wipe off the remaining dirt and trim the leaves and roots off.

After my soft neck garlic cures, I'll walk you through the process of making garlic braids. Stay tuned! 

Happy growing, 

Mary Riddle

Hanging up garlic to cure

Hanging up garlic to cure

Snapdragons are a Snap

Armloads of snaps!

Armloads of snaps!

I'm in the midst of the most prolific harvest of snapdragons you've ever seen. Not only are they fragrant, but their beauty is the kind that almost hurts your heart. With a little bit of planning, they're pretty easy to grow! I'm here to tell you how. 

Plan now for fall planting. I usually recommend placing orders for your desired flower seed as that particular flower's season comes to a close. I'll have these snaps for a few more weeks, then I'll go over my harvest records, decide which snaps I like the best (or if there was one I wouldn't order again) then place my seed order. Once the seeds arrive, I keep them stored in a cool, dark, dry place until I need them in the fall. I always like to order early so that I don't get caught in a pinch if the varieties I want are back-ordered. 

I planted these snapdragons with my students back in October. They are a little finicky. (The snapdragons, not the students!) The seeds are TINY and must be kept on top of the soil, because they need light to germinate. I germinated them indoors, then planted them outside after they had several sets of true leaves.This took about six weeks. While I was waiting for them to grow, I made sure my beds were free of debris, and I applied Mighty Grow fertilizer. Once ready, I planted my snapdragons about a foot apart. I planted them this far apart, because I wanted lots of side branches on mine. If you want longer, stronger stems, you can plant them four inches apart. If you do it this way, you'll only get one cut from each plant.

Potomac, Rocket, and Madame Butterfly snapdragons

Potomac, Rocket, and Madame Butterfly snapdragons

If you want perfectly straight snapdragons that never tilt over, you'll want to add an extra step before you plant: installing Hortonova. I recommend pounding rebar into the corners of your beds and about every four to six feet along the length of your beds. Stretch your Hortonova tight over the top of the bed so that it is completely parallel to you soil below, about a foot above the ground. You can even use taller rebar and add a second layer of Hortonova another 8-12" above your first layer for extra support. I like to make sure the netting is extra secure by using small zip ties to attach it to the rebar. The Hortonova makes it a lot easier to perfectly space your plants, because it basically lays out a perfect grid on top of your soil. It's also great for all you perfectionists out there: I've gotten a few funky shaped snapdragons, because snaps are geotropic. That means that if the stems have fallen over and are at an angle to the ground, the blooms will bend themselves back up to try and grow straight up to the sky. 

Snapdragons with row covers, March 2017

Snapdragons with row covers, March 2017

I pinched my seedlings back to about half their height when I transplanted them in early November. I made sure to keep them covered with frost cloth during times when the temperatures were dropping well below freezing. I pinched them a few times throughout the winter.

I planted three different kinds of snapdragons to try and extend my snapdragon season. My Rocket snapdragons bloomed first, followed by Potomacs, and then Madame Butterfly. Madame Butterfly snaps are frillier open-faced blooms that don't have the traditional snapdragon look. But I think they're stunning, so I grow them, too. 

Stunning Madame Butterfly snapdragon

Stunning Madame Butterfly snapdragon

These flowers have just shattered my heart with their beauty and fragrance. I've gotten hundreds of stems over three feet tall, and lots of beautiful side stems that are a little smaller that have been wonderful for smaller arrangements. I harvest them when the the flower spikes are about 1/3 open. I strip all the leaves off before putting them in my harvest bucket. I've been posting pictures of the snapdragons' progress over on my social media accounts, so check them out. 

If you like what you see, I highly recommend planning now to plant them this fall. You won't be disappointed!

Happy growing,

Mary Riddle

 

First snapdragon harvest of the year on April 9, even after several pinchings! These are Rocket snapdragons.

First snapdragon harvest of the year on April 9, even after several pinchings! These are Rocket snapdragons.

The Great Pumpkin Challenge, Part One: Double Digging

One of the best things about growing for a school is the freedom to explore and learn about new crops right alongside my students. This winter, I got a bee in my bonnet to try out a crazy crop I've never grown before: Dill's Atlantic Giant Pumpkin, the granddaddy of all giant pumpkins. 

I love the whimsy of a giant pumpkin. It brings to mind images of Hagrid's garden or Cinderella's carriage. There's a problem, though. I have horrible luck with all plants in the squash family. Growing without the aid of synthetic chemicals, I can only get one or two early rounds of squash from a plant before I'm beaten my two greatest nemeses: squash bugs and squash vine borers. To be honest, I'm a little nervous about growing a pumpkin at all, much less the world record-holding species for size and weight. Go big or go home, right? 

If everything goes well and I actually produce a pumpkin, it won't be ready until fall, but it's time to start the growing process now.

Healthy plants come from healthy soil. Last summer, I added about ten cubic yards of pure cotton burr compost to this raised bed. Over the fall, I grew radishes, beets, mustard, chard, lettuce, spinach, and turnips in it. I got too busy and ran out of time to plant a good winter cover crop, so I just mulched unused areas of the bed with straw. (Healthy soils want to be covered at all times!)

Here's what the bed looks like now.

I've started to rake away the straw mulch that I used over the winter in order to double-dig this behemoth of a bed

Double-digging is a soil preparation technique associated with the Biointensive growing method. According to Ecology Action, double-dug beds "aerate the soil, facilitate root growth, and improve water retention." Soil fertility is maintained through the heavy use of compost.

To get started, you measure off the area that you want to dig. I'm starting with a 2 x 20 foot section. I set out flags to show divide the area in 2 x 2 foot squares. 

Before you dig, please make sure that the area is free from water or gas lines. 

mary riddle double digging

Start with your first square and shovel the top 12 inches of soil into a wheelbarrow. Then, take a pitchfork and loosen up all of the newly-exposed soil underneath. I don't move on until I can sink my pitchfork in 12 inches without effort.

Move on to your next square. Shovel the top 12 inches of that square into the empty hole you just created. Again, take your pitchfork and loosen the exposed soil. Repeat that process with square after square. When you reach the end, fill the final hole with the soil waiting in your wheelbarrow. 

To ensure that I'm not compacting the soil when I'm working in the beds, I stand on a plank in order to more evenly distribute my weight through a larger area. 

I've got a lot more of this bed to finish. This is an intense workout, so my back demands that I take my time. I'm getting started now so that I can be ready to transplant pumpkins into the bed by Zone 7's April 15th final frost date. 

Stay tuned. You can follow along with #TheGreatPumpkinChallenge on my social media pages

Keep your fingers crossed for me! 

Mary Riddle

Look at that nice, fluffy soil! Now where did I put that Instagram filter that removes all those weeds?

Look at that nice, fluffy soil! Now where did I put that Instagram filter that removes all those weeds?