Garlic harvest typically begins around July 4.

Garlic gusto

Lucy and Eugene Goodman are accidental farmers. It began in 1993 with the need to stretch their legs and move out to the country. They rented a house in Preble County that had some acreage, a small garden that overproduced and a prolific Kieffer (oriental) pear tree. When they looked at the abundance, they thought, “We could sell this.”

So the following year, they planted to sell at the local farmers market. “We had fun,” recalled Lucy, “but didn’t make a single penny.” They did make a trade with a neighboring vendor: a bushel of their bright green peppers for one of his filled with hardneck garlic. The next season the landlord agreed to give them more land for their garden, and the couple added more tomatoes, strawberries, eggplants and their newly acquired garlic to what Lucy called, “the most disorganized of farms.”

The land surrounding the garden was used for soybeans and corn. Some of it was in the midst of being reforested with black walnut trees, valued for lumber and nuts but a mortal enemy to a number of vegetable varieties, most of which the Goodmans were intent on growing.

“They just don’t share the same soil well and a canopy was inevitable,” she said. The couple was convinced that farming was their future and it was time to get organized. That began the long, slow process of finding land they could call their own and to continue honing sustainable farming techniques.

In 2005, a fellow farmer found the perfect place for them. “It had a store building, pastures and a sloped area with a pond where we did some terracing and planted some grapes,” Lucy described. “The bottom area had brambles and space for rotating crops…and another Kieffer pear tree.” A terminal moraine, a ridge-like accumulation of glacial debris that eroded the landscape, stretched across the triangular-shaped nine-acre farm. The Goodmans constantly work to build the soil with a series of compost, cover crops, crop rotation, frequent soil testing and adding sulfur to soften the magnesium-laden soil.

They moved in October that year and the hardworking couple dug into four of the acres to prepare for the upcoming spring plantings of purple and green asparagus, rhubarb, spring mix and head lettuce, spinach, radishes, beets strawberries and more.

There was also a portion of the property that offered a perfect combination of silt, loam and clay for their garlic, the only seed to follow them from their previous venture and the first to be planted on their new farm.

They’ve planted, harvested and kept about a third of the garlic crop from year to year for seed garlic, larger cloves reserved from mature heads, for future crops. This season they planted 3,500 seeds the same way they did more than 20 years ago.

“We always plant between Halloween and Thanksgiving and let it overwinter,” said Lucy. “We want it to start growing a bit and endure a couple of frosts until a hard freeze.” She explained that the corms, or heads, put all their energy into root development. By the end of March the leaves will be coming up as soon as the snow melts away. Then as the weather warms, everything will go into making shoots or leaves, which continue up until Memorial Day. “The hope at that time is for thigh high, beautiful plants, just about in their full glory followed by scaping in the next few weeks,” she said. Hardneck varieties will send up flower stalks called scapes, tender looped shoots that garlic growers will often pluck to not only eat, but to encourage good sized heads of garlic.

A month later, around the Fourth of July, the Goodmans begin the initial harvest, digging out the garlic and removing as much of the dirt as possible. “We make it a point to eat some of the garlic fresh out of the field,” said Goodman. “It has a wonderful, mild flavor, so different from the intense flavor of cured garlic.”

Homemade drying racks fashioned from metal and bamboo hold the garlic, heads up, where it will cure in the barn for three to five weeks. Once cured, which means that the water in the cloves has evaporated, the roots are trimmed, the tough stalks are clipped, a few layers of the outer wrappers are rubbed off and the garlic is ready for sale and long storage in a cool, dry place where they can supply customers up until the next spring.

For Lucy, the stored garlic gives her unlimited access to one of a cook’s most indispensable ingredients. “I don’t know if many people are in that position,” she said, “but I can guarantee you it’s pretty great.” And that’s hardly by accident.

Lucy’s Garlic Tips
“The best way to store garlic at home is to just keep it in a bowl on the counter. Once the garlic thinks it’s time to grow and sprouts a little green, put it in the refrigerator where it’s dark. The garlic is usable, but remove the green leaf, which is bitter.”
   

Cleveland Garlic Festival
The Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau is supporting the 2014 Cleveland Garlic Festival. The grassroots food and music event will take place Sept. 6-7 and proceeds will support North Union Farmers’ Market.

Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermilion. She is the author of Farms and Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate and The Locavore’s Kitchen.

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Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermillion, Ohio.