Friday, September 5, 2014

Garlic & Shallots 2014 - The Results


I harvested my garlic back in mid-July and hung it in the garage to dry.  This past weekend, I finally got around to cleaning, trimming & weighing it.  The results are in and they are not overly impressive.  I planted 95 cloves of garlic & my total harvest was 2,314 grams (5 lb 2 oz).  That averages out to 24 grams (less than 1 oz) per bulb.
 
2014 Garlic Harvest
Left to Right:  Czech, Ichelium Red, Porcelain, Salt Spring Select & Persian Star
 
So let’s go back to the beginning.  In 2011, I purchased 5 varieties of garlic from Salt Spring Seeds - one softneck (Ichelium Red) and four hardnecks (Persian Star, Czech, Salt Spring Select and Porcelain).  The cloves were planted that fall (in a newly built bed) & the results were only slightly better than this year, although at the time, I considered it to be a good harvest.  I planted 51 cloves and harvested 1,366 grams (3 lbs) – an average of 27 grams per bulb.

Then in the fall of 2012, I planted cloves from the largest bulbs of each variety.  But I made two mistakes.  Firstly I didn’t add any extra amendments to the soil other than compost.  I thought the compost would be enough - it wasn’t.  I found out later that alliums are heavy feeders.  Secondly, I spaced the cloves too close together, using a 4” spacing (the prior year I used  6").  My golden shallots were planted in the same bed as the garlic & I made the same mistakes with them.

My harvest last year was beyond dismal – I harvested 100 bulbs with a total weight of 1,446 grams (3 lbs 3 oz).  That’s an average of 14 grams per bulb – eek!

So last fall, when I prepared the garlic/shallot bed, I amended the soil with compost and manure.  I also increased the spacing for the garlic to 5 inches.  I planted one row of 19 cloves for each variety and, of course, I used cloves from the largest bulbs.  Mind you, the bulbs (and cloves) were significantly smaller than what I had started out with the prior year.

Out of the 5 varieties I grew, only 2 will be kept & planted again this fall.  Both of these performed better than the original planting back in 2011, even with all my mistakes since then.  I’m optimistic that these will do even better once I have my methods nailed down.
 
Porcelain
 
Porcelain
 
Average bulb size: 2012 – 34g / 2013 – 29g / 2014 – 45g
Largest Bulb (2014):  58 grams

Persian Star

Persian Star
 
Average bulb size:  2012 – 20g / 2013 – 14g / 2014 – 25g
Largest bulb (2014):  40 grams

The remaining 3 varieties did very poorly, with minimal improvements since last year.

Salt Spring Select
 
Salt Spring Select
 
Average bulb size:  2012 – 38g / 2013 – 13g / 2014 - 15g
Largest bulb (2014):  24 grams

Czech
 
Czech
 
Average bulb size:  2012 – 28g / 2013 – 15g / 2014 - 19g
Largest bulb (2014):  34 grams

Ichelium Red

Ichelium Red
 
Average bulb size:  2012 – 20g / 2013 – 7g (no kidding) / 2014 - 13g
Largest bulb (2014):  20 grams

And now I get to my final mistake – a mistake I didn’t realize I was making until this year.  When I do research on how to grow a particular crop, I turn to a variety of sources.  More often than not, recommendations are all over the place and I find conflicting information.  Then I have to use my judgment in deciding which information to use for my particular situation.

My notes indicated that I should harvest garlic when the bottom two leaves had died back.  And I had done this in the past…sort of.  I was always so busy with other things at garlic harvest time that I usually left them a bit longer than I wanted to and then I would be all worried that they had stayed in the ground too long.  But they always turned out fine.

This year I was much more on the ball – which, as it turns out, was not such a good thing for the garlic.  I harvested it exactly when I was supposed to – when the bottom two leaves had died back.
 
Garlic Just Before Harvest
 
However, when I cleaned up the cured bulbs, they all seemed to have loose skins.

I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant – perhaps the bulbs were rotting?  But when I cracked open a couple of bulbs, the cloves were nice & firm - it was only the outer wrapper that was loose.  I had a hard time finding any reference to this on the internet until I came to one site that stated that if the bulb isn’t sufficiently mature, it will not fill out the skins.  And I think that is what happened here.  So my notes are being revised – Next year, I will wait until the bottom 3-4 leaves (about 50-75% of the leaves) have died back before harvesting.

And, even though I realize that the three poorest performing garlic varieties may have done better had I left them in the ground another couple of weeks, I have decided to replace them this fall.  Which is not a bad thing since there are several varieties I keep hearing about that I would love to try, so this is the perfect opportunity.

Now on to the Golden shallots.  Unlike the garlic, these were harvested at the perfect time.  They were nicely filled out & firm.
 
Cured Shallots on Chicken Wire Drying Rack
 
The original bulbs were also purchased & planted in the fall of 2011.   I forgot to note how many bulbs were planted but I do recall that the package did not contain that many and they were all quite small.  In July 2012, I harvested 27 bulbs averaging 10 grams per bulb.  Since I was trying to build my stock, I planted all 27 of them in the fall using a 5” spacing.  This resulted in a harvest of 68 bulbs with an average weight of 9 grams – the total harvest was 602 grams.

Last year I planted the largest 24 bulbs, 6” apart, in two staggered rows.  And this year the results were much more impressive (last years #'s are in brackets for easier comparison):

Total Bulbs Planted = 24 (27)
Harvest total = 1,286 grams (602 grams)
Total # of bulbs harvested = 81 (68)
Average bulb weight = 16 grams (9 grams)

2014 Golden Shallot Harvest
 
Why two vessels for the shallots?  Two words - insect damage.  The pan on the right contains shallots that have evidence of insect damage and as such, these will be for immediate use.  The damage on these is superficial, as far as I can tell.

Surface Insect Damage
 
The Same Bulb on the Inside
 
There were 8 bulbs that had severe damage & these were tossed (and not included in the totals):

8 Shallots had Significant Damage
 
The odd thing was, I am certain (I think???) that I didn’t see any such damage when I originally dug up the shallots and set them on the rack to cure.

Has anyone ever had their alliums damaged while they were curing?  The Camelot shallots I grew from seed are fine – no insect damage at all.  And the onions that are currently curing in the garage seem to be ok as well.

Unfortunately, many of the larger shallots – those I would have normally set aside to plant in the fall – showed some damage.  Superficial or not, I would rather plant only perfect shallot bulbs.  Thankfully, many of these were an ok size – definitely better than those I used last year – so I won’t need to purchase new planting stock this year.
 
This Years Planting Stock
 
I will close with a couple of photos of my new onion curing setup which was inspired by Daphne in her “Rebuilding the Onion Rack” post at the beginning of August.
 
Onion Curing Rack
 
The rack is resting on 3 sawhorses in the garage.  This system is so much more space efficient then laying the onions on the ground on top of newspaper.  It also provides significantly better air circulation.  The bamboo poles are 6' long and attached with zip ties to two 4' long pieces on either end and one in the middle for added support.
 
Zip Ties Attach the Bamboo to the Supporting Middle & End Poles
 
I spaced the bamboo roughly “two finger widths apart”, which is about 1¼” – 1 ½”.  This is wide enough to easily get the stems in between the poles, but narrow enough to hold even the smaller onions.  Any onions that are less than 1½” across are not cured anyhow but go straight to the kitchen to get used up first.
 
Bamboo Was Spaced Approximately Two Finger Widths Apart
 
And once the onions are cured, I can simply stand the rack up against a wall for storage.
 
This setup was also a good excuse to buy the sawhorses, which are collapsible and I got for a STEAL at Canadian Tire - $9.99 each!  How convenient it will be to simply lay a piece of plywood across two of them when I need a makeshift table in the garage, which seems to happen quite often.  And up until now I had been using piled up boxes & buckets to balance long pieces of wood when cutting them with the mitre saw.  No more of that!

Till next time…

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

10 comments:

  1. Very thorough notes--I enjoyed this tremendously.
    And I'm impressed---you LEARN from your mistakes. Seems I often make the same ones over and over---despite notes and reprimands to myself.
    Have a wonderful weekend. You have a lovely harvest!

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    1. Oh, thanks Sue! I try to learn anyhow but sometimes I forget to write things down or I don't go over my old notes as well as I should & then when things go wrong I think - oh yeah - that happened last year....and then I make a BIGGER note ;)

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  2. I love the photo of your rack. It is much nicer than mine was. I made mine because I had no space for anything else. But I found it is really nice if you like to braid your onions as the leaves are straight up. Before I'd have to let the onions only partially dry before braiding so the leaves wouldn't break off. But I did it this year with totally dry onion leaves I think they will store better that way.

    I've never heard of onions getting insect damage during storage. But we may have different insects here.

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    1. Thanks Daphne...and thanks so much for the inspiration for it. Before you did that post I was trying to come up with some type of contraption that hung from the ceiling. This turned out to be much easier to build and will likely do a much better job. As for the damage - it very well may have been there when I pulled the shallots but, as I had never experienced garlic or shallot damage before, I didn't even think to look for it.

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  3. I’m sorry that your garlic didn’t do as well as you had hoped. I always enjoy reading the garlic descriptions in the seed catalogs – it’s like describing fine wine. Territorial Seed Company says that their Siberian garlic “will warm your soul on the coldest winter evening.” I’ve only had the standard grocery store variety, but eventually I would like to try different kinds of garlic. Do you think the seed catalog descriptions are over-stated, or are some varieties truly sumptuous?

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    1. "Warming your soul on the coldest winter evening" is perhaps a bit much, but I do find that homegrown garlic is MUCH better than store bought garlic. Even after several months in storage, it is "crisp", moist, aromatic & extremely flavourful. I haven't found a huge difference in taste between the varieties that I have grown, but then again I haven't really done a side by side comparison with them. I would definitely throw a few cloves in the ground this fall, just to give it a try. And I can tell you, even if your bulbs turned out as tiny as mine, you would still be impressed with the flavour & texture.

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  4. Excellent information on the garlic lessons learned and good timing - I should be planting next year's crop in the next 4-6 weeks. I always use the biggest cloves I can find but I think I might be planting them too close together as well. I keep promising myself I will keep notes but do a poor job of it. Lucky I can rely on great gardening bloggers like yourself to teach me how to do things properly!

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    1. Thanks Susie! As gardeners we are constantly learning - especially from each other. I was actually at the Stratford Garlic Festival today (LOVED it!!) and one of the guys there says that he spaces the cloves 8"-10" apart. That's a bit too much for my limited garden space right now but I will probably experiment with wider spacing as I add more beds.

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  5. I grew a few garlics this year for the first time in a few years. The last time I
    Left them in the ground too long (thinking you left them like onion for the stem to fall over) and they rotted. I did get a reasonable harvest this year based on what I planted but have already run out. That's good advice to look for the first four leaves to turn brown, if only I'd known those years ago! Think I'll start afresh next year and start saving cloves too. I like the onion rack too, a project for the future if I ever get organised and have a bigger space for drying :)

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    1. That's one thing I am quickly learning - you can never have too much garlic! And I'm glad you didn't let one bad year deter you from trying again.

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