Sunflower “Garlic” Farm

By Cam Mather

The garlic harvest is in, and it’s been a good year. Now the work begins cleaning it.

I like growing garlic because I get to plant it in the fall. When it’s cool. And wet. It used to take me a few days. Now it takes more than a month.

We bought about $10 worth of garlic when we moved here 14 years ago, and have probably added another $20 worth over the years. But most of the 15,000 heads I planted last fall all came from the original investment. When it’s time to plant, you break up the heads into cloves, and there are roughly 8 cloves in each head. So one head turns into about 8 new heads the following spring. So your garlic collection grows exponentially over time. As does the work involved.

Like everything else in the garden this year the garlic was ready almost 3 weeks earlier than usual and as usual, I ended up harvesting it in the brutal heat. But I’m getting used to that.

After you dig the garlic up, you have to dry it. We have racks all over the place …  3 in the horse barn, 2 in the wood shed and now 6 in the garage. When it was time to set up the racks in the garage I was pretty sure that I had two 2 sets of racks. The racks are “A” frames with a rack on each side, so I thought I had 4 sides to hang the garlic on. But when it came time to set them up I could only find one set. I looked all over the property but could not find the second rack. Eventually I was sure it had been stolen. And since it’s huge, cumbersome and covered in nails, this seemed kind of unlikely. And really, who would want such a bizarre looking apparatus? But that’s the way my mind works. It’s kind of terrifying, this whole getting old and forgetful.

Finally Michelle sent an email to Gwen and Dave, who helped us here last year during garlic season, and low and behold Gwen had a photo of just one rack. Turns out I had bought the nails for the second rack; I just hadn’t built it yet. But apparently buying the nails and having the intention to build a rack one year caused my “Dr. Pepper-addled brain” to think that I had already built it.

So I built the second “A” frame this year, then had to add a third. This is a good thing, because garlic is turning out to be a way to earn some revenue from our garden. Our garlic sales are supporting the CSA this year. If it weren’t for our garlic revenue, it would be even harder to justify the time we spend in the garden for so little financial return!

So now that the garlic has been drying for a few weeks, it’s time to clean it. We take our bundles of garlic heads, cut the heads from the stems, trim off the roots and then we use a toothbrush to flake off the outside layer or two of skin. This helps to remove dirt and make sure the head is saleable.

Eastern Ontario has a new invader species; the “leek moth.” These little critters have done a real number on much of my crop this year. It likes all alliums… leeks, onions and garlic. It’s a European pest that is spreading. How it got to my farm, which is surrounded by miles of forests and is miles and miles from any other garlic grower is a mystery, but such is nature. I guess it got blown on a gust of wind like a plastic bag on a highway.

The frustrating part of the moth problem is that it trashes a perfectly good head and makes it unsaleable. Luckily though it usually just affects one clove in the head, which means that I can hold that head back to replant the other cloves this fall. And as we’ve ramped up our production we need to hold more and more back.

We set up a cleaning station on our front porch every year at this time. It looks a little festive right now, since it’s covered in the white tissue-like garlic skin that we’ve removed with our toothbrushes. We try to drop the skins into buckets at our feet, but it often blows out of the bucket and swirls around in the breeze. Last weekend it was over 100° F here (38° C) with tons of humidity making it feel like about 110°F. We shut the house up in the morning and it stayed fairly cool during the day, so I moved my garlic cleaning inside for the day. I keep a broom handy to keep the mess localized.

We sell our garlic to friends and neighbors and anyone else that appreciates organically grown delicious garlic. We attend the Verona Garlic Festival on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. And we sell to several markets and organic resellers in the areas. It’s always very gratifying when a big shipment of garlic is ready to go.

If you live in Canada* and would like some of our garlic let us know. We sell it for $12/lb. Michelle can quote you a price for shipping and we’ll split the shipping costs if you order 5 pounds or more. You should order at least that much! Our philosophy when cooking with garlic is that if the recipe calls for 2 cloves of garlic, we use 2 heads! I’m happy to report that we have never, ever had problems with vampires here at Sunflower Garlic Farm! Just another reason to stock up!

*As much as we would love to share with our American and international friends, we aren’t allowed to ship it outside the country.

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8 Responses to “Sunflower “Garlic” Farm”

  • Hi Cathy. I’m not sure why you think our garlic “stinks.” It is aromatic but not in a bad way!

  • Cathy:

    I made several pounds of compound butter with my garlic and dehydrated onions from last years crop to make room for the new crop. I made cubes in ice cube trays then bag then in gallon zip lock bags, pulling out a cube ot more when I cook. I’m here reading your blog smelling my garlic, thinking your garlic really stinks.

  • Lorna:

    Wowie wow wow. Now that’s garlic heaven. So jealous 🙂

  • Donna R.:

    Wow! Your harvest looks incredible. I planted my first garlic last fall, 13 very large cloves given to me by a European lady who also sells her harvest to a restaurant on Toronto. I now have 12 heads (we ate 1 head in the best tasting Fattoush I have ever made) waiting to be planted this autumn.

    I love the drying rack you made and may attempt to make a smaller version for my home.

    Congrats on your harvest and thanks for the garlic-tale.

  • John:

    Fantastic harvest!!! Great drying racks too!

  • Jean:

    Very impressive!

  • Gerrit Botha:

    Congratulations on another successful garlic harvest!

  • Deeda In Seattle:

    You are swimming in Garlic!! And’ hailing from the Pacific NW (where ‘Twilight’ Vampires are supposed to hide because of the lack of sunshine), I had to laugh at your vampire reference!

    It’s all beautiful, and you are definitely a FARMER!

    And I wish a little produce could go back & forth across the border…it seems crazy that when we go up to Vancouver BC, we frantically eat up all our fresh fruit before we come back to the States (can you tell my mom is Canadian?)and have to cross the border! My Aunt had the most beautiful speckled Dragon Green Bean seeds–that I couldn’t take home to grow in my garden, darn it!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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