Thursday, 23 June 2016

Harvesting and Curing Garlic

Here we are, it's been nine months since you pushed those wee cloves into the ground. You have watched them sprout and grow taller and taller, with great excitement and anticipation... but, what happens now? When to harvest and how to cure?

Northern Quebec Garlic bulb

How exactly does one know it is time to harvest?

These ones are ready to go

Exactly is a loosely used term when it comes to garlic harvest. One can quickly go from a bit too early to a bit too late.  

First, stop watering when you harvest the scapes, which is 3 to 4 weeks before you harvest the bulbs.

Next, keep an eye on those stalks. Harvest when the bottom 3 to 5 leaves are yellow or brown and top 4 or 5 leaves are still intact and greenish. So... each stalk is half green and half brown.

Some people leave them a bit longer, but waiting longer than 4 leaves makes me pretty nervous. Each leaf is actually a skin, a wrapper, on the garlic bulb itself. Therefore, if one waits too long, the skin splits open, soil and bacteria get into the bulbs, and they neither cure nor keep.    

Softneck (artichoke) garlic left in the garden a bit too long. 
Skin has split open so is not curable.

If your bulbs have split open, clean them up, separate the cloves, wash, and pop into the freezer. They will keep for a year or more. Garlic is also fabulous dehydrated. 

Still not sure? If in doubt, you can check the progress and size by brushing soil away from the top of a bulb or two. As long as you cannot see any exposed cloves, you are safe to leave them in the ground a bit longer to size up some more.

If your soil is loose and friable, you can just gently pull them out of the garden

When ready, is time to lift. You can do this by hand, with a transplanting spade, or a garden fork. 

As my soil is very friable, kind of sandy, I grab down low on the stalk, then gently but steadily pull the garlic from the ground. If your soil is heavy, however, is best to lift them with a garden fork or a narrow transplanting spade. Place 3 to 4 inches away from stem so as not to accidentally stab the bulb.

If using a fork or a spade, insert 4 inches away from bulb

Gently shake or brush off the excess soil, do not bang against something or you will have bruised bulbs. Do not wash with water.

Garlic curing in my open and airy curing shed


To cure your garlic, leave stems on, leave roots on.

Lay out in an airy yet shady spot. Carports are fabulous for this purpose. If using a basement or garage with no natural air flow, leave a fan running to keep the air moving, direct the fan right at the bulbs.  

You can also hang them in bundles from the rafters. Stagger 5 or 6 bulbs in a bundle, with good air flow to each bulb, and hang to dry. Do not try to braid at this stage!

Leave to cure for no less than 2 weeks. I leave mine for a minimum of three weeks and often as long as 6 to 8 weeks, especially if the weather has been damp or humid.

One whole table has been dedicated to curing just the Susan Delafield garlic! 

When they are all nicely cured, with dry stalks and papery skins, is time to clean them up. Trim off the roots and cut the tops to one inch long. Rub the bulbs till they are nice and white and clean. If you find any with nicks or bruises, take those aside to use for cooking, dehydrate or freeze.

Bottoms nicely trimmed, tops cut, and fully cured. 
Will store for 6 to 9 months.  

Happy gardening and growing! 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Leaf Issues

What a start to the gardening year. Plants are showing all kinds of signs of environmental stress.

Tomato leaves curling upwards

Leaves are yellowing, browning, curling, spotting, and streaking. What is going on and what is an organic gardener to do?

Powdery mildew on rose bud and leaves
Powdery Mildew 

Powdery Mildew showed up really early on roses this year. All these muggy, grey days allow fungal spores to form and spread with abandon. 

So what can one do about p/m?

First of all, make sure that you have really good air flow around your plants and water in the mornings, avoiding splash back .... then spray the mildew with either water or milk.

If the mildew is new and just starting off, blasting the new growth with a strong spray of water washes off fungal spores before they take hold and really get going. Do this in mornings or early afternoons only, and preferably on a sunny day so that you are not adding to the problem. 

Spray Powdery Mildew liberally with milk mix

My go-to fix for p/m is always milk spray. It is easy and works like a charm.

Mix 8 or 9 parts of water with 1 or 2 parts of low fat milk. This only works on smooth leafed plants though, not fuzzy squashes or cukes, as the milk coats the fungal spores and chokes them out. Spray liberally so that plant is dripping, repeat in 3 days. I sometimes add a bit of Safer's Soap to this just to help it stick. Do not add soap if you have ladybugs.

 Black Spot on roses 
Black Spot 

Also showed up on roses really early this year, well earlier than ever before. These dry yet humid days are really causing havoc in our gardens. 

For Black Spot, I generally do nothing more than remove the spotted leaves, clean up the fallen ones, water at ground level and make sure that the plants have good air flow between them. This is easiest and completely organic ; ) 

However, as it turns out, I have a wedding on this crazy, most fungal of years, so will have to be a bit more pro-active. Will be trying out Safer's Defender. Apparently if one cleans up the spotted leaves and then sprays liberally, Defender will prevent new spores from taking hold. 

The milk spray also works as a fungal inhibitor, so spray it on once a week to keep away both powdery mildew and black spot!

 Rust on garlic leaves
(this garlic belongs to a friend of mine in Nanaimo)

Have orange bumps or streaks on your leaves? You have rust. Can also sometimes be yellow or brown in colour, but either way, is a fungal issue that is once again, caused by our humid, grey, cool weather.

On your edibles, if you catch it early enough, simply remove the damaged leaves.

With regards to the garlic above, if only a few stalks have rust, I would cut off those leaves. However, if many or most show signs of damage, is best to lift and harvest instead, as rust will halt any further bulb growth. Do not compost the foliage.  

Leaf curl on tomatoes

Leaf Curl

The cupping/curling that you are seeing on tomatoes, peppers, squashes, etc.. in our region, may be due to insects, but I highly doubt it. Is most likely purely physiological, caused by environmental factors. 

This year, in most all cases, what we have going on here is weather stress. This endless wind combined with cool temps and high humidity, has our hot weather loving vegetables curling their foliage for protection from the elements. 

 Make garbage bag cloches for your heat lovers ... 
Picture from C. Wilson on Pinterest

What can we do about it? Cut back on watering, water deeply but less often, and pray for warmer, sunnier days. Make mini cloches or greenhouses out of plastic bags. As soon as the sun comes out to play and the weather evens out, the leaves will revert back to their normal ways. The leaf curl will not affect your flowering or fruiting.

Too much prolonged heat, as in a greenhouses situation, will also cause leaf curl. This was certainly the case last year.

If you think that your plant is too hot and dry in the greenhouse, water more often and soak the foliage, too. I water the foliage while rubbing the leaves to open them up to take in more moisture.

 Make manure/compost tea for an organic fertiliser
For organic feed recipes, see HERE!

Occasionally, leaf curl is caused by ones own bad habits, either inconsistent watering or over-fertilising.
To fix the water situation, ensure that your tomato/pepper/squash is getting a really good, deep drink about twice a week. No shallow watering but instead a deep soak every 3rd or 4th day. If you are growing in pots, try to even out your schedule so they stay moist, watering thoroughly every day or two.  

Do not try to remedy foliage curl with fertiliser, especially the inorganic feeds! Over-feeding plants may actually kill them. If you have invested in good garden soil, you should not have to add any additional food during the growing season. If you have inherited poor soil, feed them once a week with manure/compost tea or top dress with manure.

Hang in there, the weather is bound to get better and these problems will soon be in the past.
Fingers crossed!

Happy growing! 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Early Garlic Harvest

Is early, so very early... but the Italian softneck garlic is ready to be lifted.

Italian softneck artichoke garlic

How to know if it yours are hardnecks or softnecks? The softnecks do not make scapes, all the leaves are soft and pliable with no hard stalk up the centre. This lack of a stem is what makes them braid-able. 

Our dry, mild winter here on the west coast, along with a drier than usual spring, has brought on an earlier than ever harvest season. I will not lie, I wish it would have been a tad rainier this year, as that would have made for bigger bulbs.

My soft-necks this year range from really nice and plump to kinda small and bitsy. Will use the small ones for cooking and save the bigger ones for fall planting. 

Here you can clearly see that 3 leaves have yellowed.

How to know when to harvest? 

When the bottom 3 to 4 leaves have turned yellow/brown, is time to lift your garlic.  

At 3 leaves, I gently brush the soil away from a couple of bulbs to check on them. If all is well, with no splitting, I cover them back up again and leave for another week. 

When I get to four brown leaves, nerves set in and I have to lift them. There is such a fine line between just right and a tad too late.

This bulb was left in too long and has split open

Each one of those strapping leaves is a layer of skin covering the bulb. If left in the ground too long so that the last layer of skin splits open, the bulbs will neither cure nor keep. 

Is too late at this stage of the game to get them to size up some more. Leaving them longer will not make for bigger bulbs, just split ones. The time to make sure you get nice, big bulbs is in the fall, before you plant, by ensuring that your soil is rich in all nutrients. Add lots of great compost or manure, plus bonemeal for phosphorous. In early spring, side dress with organic nutrients and water well every few weeks. For now, all you can do is harvest at the right time.  

If your garlic has split open and looks like the one above, leave them out in a breezy, shady, area to dry for a couple of weeks. Then clean them up, separate the cloves, toss into bags or containers to store in the freezer. They will keep for one to two years when frozen.

Garlic in the curing shed

If, however, you picked them at the right time, simply lay them out to cure in that breezy, shaded, dry area (like a carport) for about 3 weeks. Then trim off the roots, brush them off, and braid or snip stems for storage. When well cured, they will last for 8 to 12 months in your pantry.   

Psst... With regards to your hardnecks. 

Water for another week or so, until your scapes uncurl and point straight up. Then keep an eye on those bottom leaves. At three or four yellow leaves, gently brush the soil away from the top of the bulb and count the bumps (cloves). If only two bumps and no splitting, cover and leave for a bit longer. Harvest will be about 3 to 4 weeks after they made scapes. 

Happy Gardening!  

Saturday, 4 June 2016

June Garden Ramblings

So here we are at the start of another month and the end of the spring 2016 season at the greenhouse.

Folks are often surprised to hear that I close for the summer, but it has always been thus. By the end of May or early June, most folks pretty much have their gardens in. Therefore, as a kitchen gardening greenhouse, it seems like a pretty reasonable time to shut down...

Plus, I must admit, by this time I am pretty much pooped right out, too ; ) 

So... Tis gardening season for me now ...

Heirloom Blue Podded Peas

 What is going on in the garden right now? 

While May was unseasonably hot and dry, June began with grey skies and the occasional drizzles. This certainly makes it easier to keep seeds moist till they germinate.

Germinating carrot seeds

Carrot seeds can take  a really long time to germinate.. anywhere from 7 to 21 days and must be kept moist the entire time or you risk losing them all. Therefore, using burlap sacks or sheets helps to keep your seeds moist while conditions are windy or hot with no rain in sight.

Place the burlap over the seeds after you have sown and watered them in. Water through the sack daily, soaking everything. Start lifting the sack after about 7 days to check for new growth, remove when you see tiny little seedlings as in the above picture.

Use this trick to start any seeds you like, though check on them earlier than you would carrots, as most will germinate in 3 to 7 days.

Green Globe Artichokes 

The artichokes have over wintered just fine and are putting on chokes like crazy already! They sure did love this mild winter that we had, as I must have a dozen of them already!

Water them once or twice a week, really well, side dress with manure or compost if you feel that they need to be fed. Do not worry about the bottom leaves yellowing, they are the oldest leaves and it is just natural die back. Remove and toss into the compost bin.

Bolting lettuce mix

Some of your spring sown veggies will bolt this month. This is also a natural process. Cool weather crops do not like the heat, they are sown in cool temps, they enjoy the cooler temps, and they go to seed when the hot weather hits. The cool weather crops are things like lettuce, greens, radishes, spinach, and sometimes broccoli and kale, too.

Simply remove these guys, toss them into your compost bin and plant hot weather crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, beans, etc.. in their stead.

Heirloom Blue Podded Peas

Remember that the more you harvest, they more they produce. This applies to pretty much everything, but right now am thinking mostly about peas and sweet peas. If you don't pick them often and regularly, they will quickly start to die off.

When they start to turn yellow and no longer produce, remove the vines and replace with not weather loving pole or bush beans.


Keep checking your garlic! Now that the scapes have formed, keep an eye on the bottom leaves. When 3 of them have turned yellow or brown, is time to start thinking about pulling them.

You can brush around the bulb a little bit, see if they are okay, not splitting and decide whether to pull them or leave them another few days. When four leaves have turned brown, I start to get nervous and generally lift my garlic.

Softneck garlic - Is probably ready to be lifted now! Check your bottom leaves and do not wait too long or your garlic bulbs will have split and so will not cure or keep!

More about garlic to come in a week or two...  

Tomatoes all went into the potager this year

I generally grow the majority of my tomatoes in the greenhouse and hoop house, with only about a dozen plants out in the garden beds.

However, last year proved to be much too hot for tomatoes in my super hot, south facing greenhouse. To keep the flowers from going sterile in the heat, I had to keep the fan going (a lot) and was constantly soaking the greenhouse down to keep it cool. Not a fan of wasting resources like water and power.

Therefore, this year they are all going into the garden instead, while the greenhouse holds the heat loving peppers and eggplants ; )

If you are using a greenhouse for tomatoes this summer, invest in shade cloth, or grow tall plants on the south/west side to help keep it cooler.

Roses are happy and blooming away this year... but sadly both powdery mildew and black spot started really early, too.

Powdery mildew is easily treated on smooth leafed plants like roses. Mix one part skim milk with 9 parts water, spray on affected foliage, repeat once or twice. The mildew will be choked out by the milk and turns dark as it dies.

Oddly enough, this is also the one time that you can spray down your foliage with water. I know, I know.. how crazy is that?! If you are just starting to get mildew on your roses, spraying the buds and foliage with a good strong jet or spray of water will wash off the spores just as they are beginning to form. Do this in the morning, never ever in the evening!

Black spot is not so easily treated. Remove any spotted foliage and clean up debris around the shrub. Ensure that you have good air flow, water in mornings only, at ground level. There is a product out by Safer's that is said to prevent new spots from forming, but you have to remove the old diseased foliage first. It is not a cure, but a preventative.

So... what to plant this month?

Chances are, you already have most of your garden in. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squashes, all the heat lovers can go outside, into the garden or pots this month.

What can you plant from seed now? Just about everything!

- Beans
- Beets
- Broccoli
- Cabbage
- Carrots
- Cucumbers
- Kohlrabi
- Parsnips
- Pumpkins
- Squash - all kinds

You can also succession sow lettuce and cilantro, which quickly bolt in the heat, so keep new ones coming by seeding every two weeks.

Plums - going to be a bumper crop this year! 

Happy Growing! 

Moving Thyme

Sadly, the Nitty Gritty Potager blog is no more... but the good news is that I can now be found at my new blog called the Olde Thyme F...