Category Archives: Garlics

Fall Starts, and Sauerkraut Time!

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted August 10, 2020

 

Fall Starts

Mid-August is the time to get long-standing hardy winter transplants into the ground. I have late cabbage and broccoli in, as well as collards, along with a last planting of leeks, plus a few clumps of green onions/scallions. The challenge has been keeping them all protected from the intense sun we’ve had the past few weeks. I cover the fragile starts with large black plastic pots for several days or more, and then gradually expose them to an hour or so of early morning sun each day. I also make sure to water them daily to help them maintain turgor, or internal water pressure, which keeps them upright. When they’re finally rooted a bit, I shield them with the pot placed on the southern side to provide shade, and give them a grid of sun and shade overhead using leftover plastic garden nursery trays that have perforated bottoms for drainage. If it gets really hot, I lay strips of cardboard on top of the trays, to provide complete shade, but with a little light still coming in from the sides to keep a minimum of photosynthesis going.

Sometimes it takes a week or more before the plants stop wilting on first exposure to the direct sun. These are cool weather transplants that are being stressed by having to establish root systems in hot weather; they need the sun protection. Once established, they’ll be fine, but regular watering will be needed until fall. With autumn rains coming later and later each year, make sure they don’t dry out. Drought conditions and warm spells in September may cause them to go to seed prematurely instead of waiting for next spring. You want them to be mature by the end of fall so they’ll hold on through the winter, growing slowly and supplying  fresh green produce through the dark months.

Brine and Sauerkraut Time

Midsummer is also pickling season. I’ve been doing short-term salt brine cucumber pickles for several weeks, sometimes with fresh grape leaves laid on top, to keep all the spices from floating up to the surface. Recently I had to remove most of an Early Girl tomato plant that was showing signs of stem disease, so I had an unexpected box of green tomatoes to deal with before I’d even harvested a fully ripe tomato.

I used a standard N.Y. Deli dill pickle recipe for the halved tomatoes, along with garlic, spices, chili peppers, and for a new, extra kick, added horseradish leaves. After sitting in a cool corner next to the freezer for a few days, and once they taste pickled enough, the jar will go into the cold storage fridge. Surprisingly, I got most of the box of green tomatoes packed into a one gallon jar. It will bring back memories of the large jars of green tomatoes on display in the front windows of classic New York delicatessens.

With a crop of early green cabbage heading up, it’s also sauerkraut time. Not having made kraut in recent years, I started off with a plain version, just using sea salt, for the first gallon. The second gallon included the Middle Eastern herb sumac and a Jordanian green za’atar spice mix, for a Mediterranean take on kraut. With the third gallon, I’m trying Curtido, a South American salted cabbage recipe that includes sliced carrots, shredded garlic, chili peppers, and oregano. Lots of massaging of all that chopped cabbage to generate enough brine. Once the kraut is ready, it will join the pickles in the fridge set up for extended storage.

With all those cucumbers, tomatoes and cabbages bubbling away in their brine, the pantry feels like an indoor garden growing in the dark.

Garlic Harvest

by Peter Heffelfinger

posted July 13, 2020

After I took the scapes off the plot of garlic two weeks ago, I was hoping the usual sunny weather of early July would add the last needed bit of maturity to the bulbs before harvest. The outer sheaths of the test bulbs I pulled up looked good, dry and white. But more rains came, as has been the pattern all spring and holding on into summer. By the time we pulled the garlic, the mold had surfaced. A good 30% went straight to the burn pile, probably blackened much earlier but now in full fungal bloom. The rest of the bulbs were generally smaller than usual, and needed to be cleaned post haste in order to prevent any lingering spores developing as the heads cure, hung up in the breezeway of the carport.

Out of the 800+ plants seeded last fall we will be lucky to have 60% cure well. My biggest worry is having enough clean seed for planting this fall for next year’s crop. Over the years we have built up solid stocks of four hard neck varieties: Music, Deja Vue, Korean Red and Russian Red. The Russian Red is a particular favorite, since it stores so long, due to a very hard, shell-like skin around the uniquely triangular shaped cloves. But this year the Russian had the most mold, so I am hoping we have enough viable seed.

Earlier this spring I had a lot of stored garlic from last year’s bumper crop that was starting go soft. To not have it go to waste, I froze multiple pints of finely puréed cloves, as well as roughly processing two quarts of cloves mixed with olive oil and sea salt to store in the fridge for immediate use. The preserved garlic will now become a much needed fill-in for this year’s short harvest. Always pays to have backup in the pantry.

The shallot plot next to the garlic out on the Flats was also affected by the mold, as well as developing hard seed stalks. Some of it may be saved by drying out on screens in the pantry and used up quickly. A second shallot bed at the Mt. Erie garden was less affected by mold, so I am drying out these bulbs in the sun on a tarp, and covering them at night. It will be a short shallot run this year in the kitchen.

On the flip side of the rain issue, the early cabbages are now large and about to split, the cauliflower has been bountiful, and the snap peas have come in daily waves. And, where  a bed of early onions got moldy and was pulled, new summer transplants of lettuces, bok choy and bulb fennel are taking hold, along with a second plantings of cauliflower and red cabbage. Keep planting and carry on.

The Wet and the Dry

By Peter Heffelfinger

June 29, 2020

 

The Wet

It certainly has been a wet month, with hard rains causing germination or mold problems. I am still waiting to see if my third planting of corn will sprout enough to fill in the bare soil in the rows from the first two disappointing seedings. As well, some of the 6-inch high onion plants developed mold around the bulbs and had to be discarded. But the peas soaked up all the rain and kept climbing up what seemed like an endless water spout.

Another sign of the high moisture level was the arrival of aphids, hiding in their usual beginning spot, deep inside the tender central growing tips of brassicas, in this case a bed of young Lacinato kale. An easy treatment is to spray the leaf cluster area with a light solution of detergent and water. The soap attacks the soft exoskeleton of the aphids that are sucking out the juices of the plant. Once aphids are present on a crop, keep a constant watch for their reappearance and keep spraying them at first sight. The soap solution does not affect the plant tissues, and is easily washed off, usually by the next garden watering. Check the site for several days to make sure there are no remaining aphids present, keep an eye out for any re-occurrence, and have the soap spray bottle at hand.

Aphids often spread to other plants, especially inside the top buds of Brussels sprouts. Check the long-standing plants often, carefully unfolding the tightly wrapped central growing cluster of leaves at the top of the stalk. Drench with the soapy solution if there are aphids hiding deep inside, and make sure to check the lower side-buds as well, once they start to form over the summer. In general, if the stems of any plant do get covered with aphids, discard the entire plant, in order to immediately to check the infestation. Aphids are endemic here, and will keep reappearing at intervals; but careful, organic pest management will control them.

There’s a good side to all the rain, though. The early broccoli crop has been abundant, the spring cabbages are already reaching full size, and the first small white crowns of cauliflower are forming. With our extended daylight hours of summer, cauliflower heads may start to sprout or discolor prematurely before getting full-sized. Lightly cover the central area of the plant by cracking, but not completely severing, the stems of a few of the outer cauliflower leaves and then folding them over the emerging heads. Complete the makeshift parasol by adding on top a few large, aged cabbage leaves. Keep the cauliflower heads in the dark. Wait for the head to grow to full size and pick while the curds are still tight. Fresh, homegrown cauliflower eaten straight from the garden is incredibly sweet compared to the commercial product that has been aging in transport.

A note on the garlic harvest. Some gardeners in the Dewey Beach area had to pull their already-mature garlic last week. For my crop out in the Valley, the last of the scapes have just been removed. Hopefully there will be a dry spell of our Mediterranean-style summer to properly mature the plants just before lifting in mid-July. For more information on when to harvest garlic, see the link below to the recent New York Times article on Filaree Garlic Farm, a commercial garlic seed grower in the Okanogan. Nice to know an extensive seed bank of the many types of garlic from all over the world exists on the dry side of our state. (Thanks to Jan Hersey for sending me the link.)

 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/realestate/grow-garlic-garden-organic.html?smid=em-share

[ A subscription to the NY Times is required to read this article]

 

The Dry

Inside the hoop house, the main issue is watering, given the heat buildup that starts each morning as soon as the early sun hits the walls. I try to conserve water since I rely on an Artesian well that slows down in late August. Over the years I’ve tried various mulches, including black plastic and biodegradable paper mulch, to keep the soil moist, but I now prefer to leave the soil open to the warm air. I currently water using the half-gallon black plastic pots the tomato plants came in to make individual mini-cisterns half-buried next to the stems of each plant. The pots create an efficient deep-watering system.

For tomatoes, I cut the bottom off the thin-walled rectangular pots and drive the edges halfway down into a small, excavated area next to the plant and berm up soil around the outer sides of the pot. I fill the pots with a hose, letting the water seep down to the roots, with no leaks off the side of the raised mound. I do water the surface soil around the stem as well, but the pots supply the bulk of the irrigation.

For peppers, which don’t need quite the same volume of water, I use the thicker-walled cylindrical pots as is. The bottom drainage holes are buried 2-3 inches deep; the pot is located in between the plants, which are spaced 18” apart in the row. As with the tomatoes I water the soil surface around the stem of the plant a bit as well, to keep the surface moist, but most of the irrigation filters down to the roots. 

For both the tomatoes and peppers I let the cold well water warm up for a day in a 50-gallon barrel before applying it, via a gravity-fed hose, to what are originally tropical plants now being grown in a northern temperate zone. Keep their feet warm and wait for that first red tomato or full-sized pepper.

Mid-June in the Garden

by Peter Heffelfinger

Posted June 15, 2020

Early Herbs

In late April and early May, when I transplanted tomatoes into the hoop house, I also put in three pots of basil plants in a warm corner to guarantee an early supply of the herb to go with the first ripe tomatoes. I am already pinching off the lead buds to prevent the plants from forming flowers. Keep them bushy and green. Otherwise one has to wait until the warmth of June to plant basil outdoors.

I also have a perennial bed of white-flowering Greek oregano that is just starting to form buds. It escaped from the garden soil where I originally planted it years ago and took up permanent residence in the dry, rocky fill of a old driveway. Some herbs thrive under stress. I harvest it just as the flowers start to bloom and hang the long stems in bunches to dry in the cool pantry. Note: the common purple-flowered oregano is very bland in comparison to the more spicy Greek strain.

Oregano

This past week I put in starts of coriander that will flavor the fresh salsa made from the tomatoes. Coriander goes to seed extremely quickly, so keep the flowers picked off and do multiple plantings for a steady supply all summer. The same technique applies to arugula, which will form flowers as soon as possible given our long hours of summer daylight. Last fall I planted some perennial, olive-leaved arugula, which overwintered successfully in large planters by the house, and is only showing a few flowers so far this spring. Hopefully the plants will continue on for another season. Note: it is a very strong-tasting variety of arugula that gets more pungent with age.

The cucumber vines are climbing the trellis in the hoop house, both the slicers for salad and the pickling types. This year I am trying a small Persian variety used for Mediterranean-style quick pickles, obtained from the local Uprising Seeds company, as well as a standard pickle type from Joe’s Garden Nursery in Bellingham. So, for fresh seed heads of dill for pickles, dill transplants should go in now, if you haven’t already planted seed earlier. I use the dill fronds in salads and for mixing with a soft cheese for an appetizer spread.

Continuing the same anise-flavor pattern, I put in a half dozen bulb fennel plants, for both the bulb slices dipped in anchovy-flavored olive oil and the feathery leaves that can be roasted with summer salmon. Note: there is also frond fennel, grown solely for the leaves and the seed. And if you walk around Old Town Anacortes in mid-summer, you’ll find a coarse wild fennel growing in the alleys.

Pea Heaven

Peas are coming on strong, both the snap variety and my personal favorite the Oriental snow peas. Being of a certain height, I like to grow the tall varieties of both types for ease of picking and for an extended growing season, but they do need some kind of trellis or fencing. This year I’m trying 8-foot tall panels of cattle guard fencing, along with twine strung horizontally to hold in the wandering pea vines. I am also trying a standard bush snap pea, which is listed as self-supporting, but really needs lots of short fence posts and some encircling twine to stay upright. The neighbor kids like the shorter bushes since the peas are at their height. Peas for all.

Garlic Scape Season

The first sign of the coming garlic harvest is the appearance of the scapes (curved seed stalks) on the hard-neck garlic. (Soft-neck garlic for braiding does not produce scapes.) Remove the scapes in order to promote the development of the bulbs below ground. Make sure you get them all, as they can hide in between the leaves. Scapes can be stir-fried, cut into rounds for soup, made into pesto, or seared on the grill. To freeze: cut the stems into short lengths, blanch quickly, chill in cold water, and freeze in a thin layer on a rimmed baking pan. Pack loosely in bags for winter soups. Scapes are mostly mild in garlic flavor, but I do find the Korean Red scapes a bit more zingy.

Garlic bulb harvest comes 2-3 weeks after the scape removal, usually in early July, depending on the weather. With all the heavy rain recently, I hope the bulbs dry out enough to avoid fungus and mold. Some of my shallots are showing mold already. Shallots are a luxury item; garlic is a necessity, so I hope our summer dry season begins soon.