There’s picking and there’s harvesting. We pick parsley, we pick beans, we pick flowers. Picking means that you are not collecting it all up at once, or for the last time. Harvesting is a much bigger job. You harvest field corn or wheat or potatoes. On our farm, we do a lot more picking than harvesting.
We are in the midst of the garlic harvest now. Even on our tiny farm, it’s a monumental task. Last fall we planted 500 pounds of garlic cloves, one at a time, by hand, and we covered them with a layer of hay mulch and left them alone for the winter. They grew beautifully. In the first weeks of June we harvested all the garlic curls – a light task – and a few weeks later the green tops turned yellow and the bulbs underground were mature enough to dig.
Our harvest methods are probably the same as they were a millennium or two ago. We stick a big fork in the ground and loosen the soil around each garlic plant, then we bend over and pull on the base of the stem. It’s very simple. A child can do it. The hard part is that the garlic patch goes on and on.
On some farms, the garlic harvest is done with a mechanical digger (we have one out in Purcellville) and the process is completed in one day. On our Vienna farm, we dig garlic for about a week, cleaning each muddy bulb as it comes out of the ground. We dry the garlic in the greenhouse and then fidget with it all season long, trimming and cleaning it again before it goes into the CSA bags.
Baskets of fresh heads of garlic in the field wait for transport
Matthew loosens the bed of garlic with a digging fork