Written by Karma Glos of Kingbird Farm
As the growing season comes to an end and we reap the harvest grown in these rich temperate soils, I am conscious to count my blessings. We live and farm in a region of the country where natural resources are abundant and the climate generally supportive. While we experience the extremes of the seasons, we rarely suffer dramatically from drought, wildfire, tornado, earthquake, volcanoes, or hurricanes. The floods in river valleys over the last few years have been one of the few dramatic reminders of the climate extremes we are starting to face. As I watch weather events devastate communities throughout the country and the world, I am profoundly grateful to farm and produce food for my neighbors on these lush fruitful hillsides.
For us the harvest is concentrated in late summer and early fall. We grow primarily storage crops: garlic, onions, and potatoes which work well for our once-a-week sales at the farmers market. Fresh, more perishable crops require frequent harvest and sales – so we have focused on easily-stored vegetables. Our one acre of flat land perched in the middle of 100 acres of hillside forest and pasture provides ample room for this simple crop rotation. At a rich, varied farmers market like Ithaca, there is room for all sorts of growers to find a niche and grow what works for them. Alliums and potatoes work for us.
Garlic is our biggest and most labor-intensive harvest. The Ithaca Farmers Market is blessed with several good garlic growers and this ensures a steady supply of local bulbs of diverse varieties. We have focused on three varieties of hardneck: Chesnok Red, German Red, and German White. These are planted and straw mulched in the fall and harvested in July. Despite some early spring standing water and then some early summer drought, the garlic produced a decent crop. We pulled the heads in July, bundled them for drying and hung them in a shed to cure. Once the tops and skins had dried adequately, we clipped the stems and roots. The crates of clipped garlic spent the next couple of weeks in the greenhouse drying down further. Once the skins are a bit crisp and the heads are firm, we remove the first layer to reveal a clean, often purple-streaked inner skin. The clean garlic is graded into three classes: large (to be replanted or sold as “seed” garlic), medium (for eating), and small (for selling bulk at a discount). Today I finished cleaning the last heads and have stacked the crates in the farm store ready for bagging and labeling. The garlic harvest is in and the potatoes are next.
Next time you’re at market I encourage you to take a moment to inspect the garlic varieties on display: the large white continentals with huge, easy-to-peal cloves; the purple-skinned Chesnok with pointed, tightly-wrapped, spicy cloves; and the rare soft-necks with their multitude of tiny inner cloves and braidable stems. These bulbs are the result of nearly nine months of tending and several weeks of curing, cutting and cleaning. They are the pungent fruits of our labors on these verdant hills. They are a reminder of our privilege to live on this land and nourish ourselves with its abundance. Enjoy the harvest and toss a few more cloves in the pan!