Growing Great Garlic (cont)
By: Robert Kourik
When and How to Harvest Garlic
In late June, when most of the crop has brown leaves, Aaron begins to harvest with a sturdy spading fork. He is careful to avoid hitting the wire mesh beneath the plants (gophers will quickly find the holes). Although tradition dictates that the heads should be laid on the ground to dry, Aaron's garlic doesn't stay in the field for even a few minutes, it goes straight to a custom-built drying shed.
Cure garlic for two to three weeks in a cool, dark place, like a basement, garage, or garden shed where the average temperature ranges from 55° to 65° F and the humidity is 40 to 60 percent. The heads will be at their flavor peak for 2 to 3 months after curing, though still usable for up to six months.
Once the foliage has dried, dig up the garlic, rub all loose soil off the outside of each head, stripping some of the papery skin if you must. To prevent rotting and spoilage, don't remove so much skin that the cloves show through. Clip off the all-brown foliage, leaving 8 to 14 inches of stalk. Tie three to five stalks into a cluster and hang in a cool, dry, dark location that has good air circulation.
Just-harvested garlic tastes very different from fully cured. According to Aaron, Freshly harvested garlics all taste about the same, but after a month the variations in taste become noticeable. Aaron, who routinely eats 6 to 8 cloves of raw garlic a day, also uses it to prepare dozens of dishes, many laden with 20 to 30 raw or cooked cloves of the potent herb.
Asked about the most important thing he is learned in 10 years of growing garlic, Aaron replies: I knew before I ever planted garlic that different varieties had different sizes, colors, shapes, and numbers of cloves per head, but I now know that there's a real distinction in the flavors of different varieties. I had to eat my way to this discovery. In his experience, the flavor differences last for two to three months after curing.
Aaron is not one who rests on his laurels in retirement nor on his garlics! While planting last fall, he increased his collection of specialty garlics from 75 to 81 varieties and added four more 40-square-foot boxes. To Calvin Klein, Obsession is a perfume; to Chester Aaron, it's garlic.