We have a long tradition of growing garlic at Terra Firma. In fact, Paul Holmes was growing it here in Winters during the first incarnation of the farm, before we changed the name.
Most years we harvest tons of the aromatic bulbs in June and then store them in the barn through the summer and into the fall. It’s not an exciting crop, but it’s generally pretty reliable. Not this year.
If you love garlic, you’ve probably noticed there hasn’t been any in your CSA boxes since the last time we put “green garlic” in back in the spring.
Weather during the spring is usually the most important factor that decides whether we have a good or just ok crop of garlic. Originally descended from a swamp plant, it loves moisture while it is green and growing in the winter. But once the heads start to form, garlic likes warm, dry weather. And obviously once the skin has started to dry, rain or moisture of any kind is the enemy.
In many places in the world, garlic has to be brought inside once it reaches this stage of growth and cured using fans and heaters. But in California’s Central Valley, you can normally leave it in the ground to keep growing another 2-4 weeks and then finish drying it in the warm summer shade. This is how we get the big heads with large cloves.
For us, wet weather in the late spring can wreck havoc with garlic, forcing us to rush harvest in an effort to get the crop into the barn early, where it’s difficult for us to properly dry and cure it. In those years, we often lose a chunk of the crop to mold and disease. It’s only happened a few times.
This year the problem was different. We’re not even sure what the problem was, although we do know that we didn’t get much rain at all during the “winter”. We irrigated the crop through December and January, but it still didn’t grow much. And there appears to have been a problem with the “seed” (garlic is planted using individual cloves planted four inches or so apart). The cloves took a long time to sprout — or didn’t sprout at all — and had very little vigor.
We ended up with one of our worst garlic crops ever: very small head or misshapen heads and not many of them. It was also the latest ever to form bulbs. We harvested it at the end of June instead of early to mid-May.
Long story short: You won’t get much garlic in your TFF boxes this year, and the heads you do get will be small and ugly. The garlic itself is juicy and flavorful though. Enjoy it while it lasts!