Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

When getting hung out to dry is a good thing

I am still struggling with the calendar here in Austin. It's just now the first of August and I am exhausted from summer. I hide in the house away from the heat and try to find ways to console myself during this dormant season.

Lucky for me the winter seed catalogs have arrived and once again I am in search of garlic.

Every year I plant three varieties to discover which will grow here during our droughty winters and hot springs. The only one that has been a reliable producer is Chinese Pink. It is ready to harvest in early to mid May as soon as it starts to get warm outside.

The other varieties just can't take it. I've consulted with my Austin gardening communities and have even ordered from specialty nurseries that service gardeners in the south. No matter what I do they won't survive through June and I end up with very small harvests.

I thought his year would be different. I purposely, and uncharacteristically, fertilized all three varieties every couple of weeks since last October and gave them more water than usual during the winter. It seemed to be working. I got really nice, vigorous tops and when I poked around the base the heads seemed to be forming like they should.

I was planning on an extended vacation in May so was glad that the Chinese Pink were ready to harvest before I left. They did have slightly larger heads than usual from all the extra care, so I was sure I'd cracked it. While away for the next three weeks, it rained almost five inches spread over several days, so when I returned I was hoping to see some progress.

The tops were all dead, which is okay because that usually signals that it's harvest time. I pulled them up and sighed. Skunked again.

I really like to grow garlic because it is easy to store and I cook with it a lot. You can pull them up and throw them in a paper sack, bin, or even a burlap bag and they will keep for at least a few months. I try to grow three varieties so that I get a staggered harvest, thus extending the time I can use my own bulbs instead of buying more milder flavored varieties from the grocer. I started braiding mine after seeing some for sale at a home and garden show. I'm not the craftiest person in the world, but even I can pull off a semblance of a braid. Here is a website I found that takes you through the steps:

Garlic tastes better after it's dried for a while. Sometimes when you just pull it out of the ground it can be a little green and bitter tasting. Drying evens out the flavor and intensifies the heat. I pull the garlic, trim the roots, then use a soft brush to get rid of the dirt. Sometimes I peel the outermost layer of skin just to clean them up a bit. I then braid them together and hang them someplace. I try to do the harvesting and braiding the same day while the stems are still pliable. A couple of times I have waited and it's hard to soak the stems enough so they don't break off while you are working with them.

The thing I like about these braids is that you can hang them just about anywhere. I have a great covered deck at my house so I've hung the harvest just outside of the door. I snip the lower heads off when I need them.

I am too greedy to use my stash for replanting knowing that I'll run out in January, so I've got to solve this production problem. With the amount of moisture and mild temperatures this spring, I think my theory about the heat has proven to be untrue. Perhaps it's the heavy clay soil? Or maybe the issue is that the soil itself heats up too much? My raised beds do get quite toasty.

I look through the catalogs and plot a new strategy. Maybe if if used a higher compost-to-soil ratio the ground would be more friable, airy, and not prone to heating up. I'm not ready to admit defeat and just plant Chinese Pink - especially when these other varieties promise to produce in the South.

Meanwhile, I've brought in a batch that I couldn't braid and am storing it in the kitchen inside a pair of pantyhose. Since I no longer wear nylon stockings due to a career and climate change (out of banking and into the heat), I've found them immensely useful in the garden. Great for tying things up or for stuffing with herbs and garlic to dry.

The house has taken on a bit more of an aroma on top of the usual garlicky cooking smell. Should keep the vampires and mosquitos away while being just below noxious for people less enthusiastic about the "stinking rose."  I only hope people who look at my garlic stuffed hose and then back to me aren't eyeing my legs for cellulite.  Ha!


  1. I really like Burgundy (though it's been a bit hit or miss the last 2 years). And Inchellium Red (which did really good this last year)

    1. I've done both of those and had no luck. I really have to crack this or my Master Gardener credentials are going to be revoked!