Warding Off Vampires at Sunflower (Garlic) Farm

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather
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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

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. (send an email to michelle at aztext dot com) We sell it for $12/lb. Michelle can quote you a price for

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

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

For more information about Cam Mather or his books please visit www.aztext.com or www.cammather.com