New Grower advice needed...

mikeamondoDecember 28, 2013

So..... we've decided to be farmers. My wife and I are excited to start some basic farming next year and have chosen Garlic, Lavender and Shitake Mushrooms + bee hives to get started. Ambitious? Yes. But we're planning only a small amount of each. So here are the facts....

Zone 5
8 full acres available, full sun, mostly dry, farmed for the past several years.
Northcentral WV, near Morgantown... Go Mountaineers!
No fear of hard work and great desire to have a home based business that we can eventually live off of.

And here are the first questions....
We don't want to wait until fall to start.... so we would like to try some spring garlic. Would it make sense to do a spring planting and then use what we grow for a larger fall planting?
With an eye toward eventually selling for profit, what varieties do you think would be best for us to experiment with?

We have not done a soil test yet, but we've got some great books and a can-do attitude. Yes, I really typed that.


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You can certainly plant garlic first thing in spring, and the bulbs will attain a pretty good size when the weather is good. Whether or not you would have good planting stock is an open question. Last year the continual rain caused many problems with fusarium in the east.

Regarding making a living...Around here growers are moving toward cultivating about eight crops for various markets, some wholesale and some retail. A local guy who does shitakes promotes that they are managed with mountain spring water -- don't forget the hype!

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 7:42AM
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Spring planting garlic will probably not result in great returns or very large garlic. Would suggest growing cover crop to get ready for fall planting. Do you have garlic seed? Viable seed for spring may be hard to find. Garlic is fairly easy to grow, growing great garlic takes time and patience. Suggest might read book by Ron England, Growing Great Garlic, geared toward small garlic farming operations. Hope that helps.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 12:58PM
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Hi, and thanks for the replies! @planatus.... Does "is an open question" mean that there is generally disagreement as to whether a spring planting will create decent seed stock? In general, does a larger clove result in a larger bulb after planting? And.... what 8 crops are growers in your area planting? We are thinking Garlic, lavender, shitakes and bees... what else might we add to the list?

And.... @johnnp.... We've been reading England's book and Meredith's Complete Book of Garlic, both of which are very informative. What cover crops do you recommend. Thinking we might do a very small patch of Spring garlic just to try different varieties and do the cover crop in the larger area as you suggest.

Any general suggestions on varieties for some noobs to get started with?
Thanks again!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 7:34AM
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Mikamondo. in regard to your statement about disagreement between my view or opinion and that of planatus, our responses are based on our personal experience, neither are wrong. I plant in South Louisiana and Mississippi and spring planting is not an option, even though we have mild winters it warms up rapidly and usually harvest mid May to early June. That is not enough time for garlic to size up nicely. Much has been written about spring planting positive and negative but I really don't think you can find good garlic to plant at that time of year and do not believe that they will grow to their potential. You have to be careful and make sure you get disease free garlic from a reliable supplier. There are to many people out there that will sell you a less than desirable product. Don't buy store garlic they will grow, but they usually have been sprayed with chemicals to prolong shelf life. If you plan to grow organically that is a no-no. Plan to rotate your garlic planting site every 3 years to cut down on potential problems with disease. Garlic takes time to acclimate, depends on where you get your seed from. If possible purchase from a reliable and local seed supplier. No one sells seed garlic in the south so I had to purchase from out of state and took me 3 to 4 years to get them to acclimate. Plant large cloves get large garlic. Plant small cloves get small garlic. However, till you get your soil right you may be disappointed with the results. Be patient, read a lot, develop a plan or philosophy and make changes as needed.
Cover crops that work for me might not work for you. For fall/winter I like winter rye and hairy vetch. Early spring I plant buckwheat and summer a combination of cow peas and sorghum-sudan. Last summer I planted sunn-hemp and was pleased with the results. Big problem is that sunn-hemp is expensive. All of those should work for you but you may have a few other options that I don't. Alfalfa seems to be a real popular in areas that can support it, it would be difficult for me to grow it successfully so I stick with what works for me.
You should be able to grow many varieties that I can't. From what I understand, you should be able to grow almost all of the varieties well except maybe creoles. Hardnecks are very popular especially rocamboles, Music is a popular rocamble that should be available. There are also several varieties of softnecks such as I Red, Lorz Italian or Red Toch. I grow turbans, creoles, softnecks and a few asiatics. Mild winters prohibit me from growing many types. Suggest you ask some of the locals about varieties grown in your area, you might want to start with that then experiment as you gain knowledge and experience. Well I hope that helps you. If you have any other questions let me know. Johnnp

    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 12:39AM
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That was a great response! A couple things in there i had not thought of! Thanks!

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 6:39AM
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Starting a farm is a journey, and many people end up with very different crops from what they began with. You also must get to know your land. The indie film linked to below will show you all kinds of mistakes you can make...

Lettuce and cabbage are big here, and one farm does a lot of fall turnips. We have a sizeable farm-to-school program for potatoes and lettuce, but those programs are still rare.
Raising lambs for meat is growing, too. The little sheep feet don't tear up the mountainside, and they are easy on fences.

Here is a link that might be useful: To Make a Farm film

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 9:56AM
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Hardneck variety "Music" is a porcelain, not a rocambole. It is a decent variety but I consider it vastly overrated - it is a fad variety that gained in popularity due to a lot of positive national press by people like Martha Stewart, and then by lazy food journalists who glommed on to that keyword rather than research all the wonderful garlic varieties themselves. The best thing about "Music" garnering a lot of attention is that it turned a lot of folks on to the existence of boutique garlic varieties. From a marketing standpoint I believe its popularity has peaked and is now on the wane.

In my state it seems that the most popular types to grow are in fact those porcelain varieties, and I think this is simply because of the marketing "wow factor" due to their very large cloves. A backlash is occurring because I have heard customers complain that they can not use up such large cloves for a given meal so they end up either throwing away a lot of expensive garlic or stinking up their refrigerators with leftover partial cloves.

My focus is on growing rocamboles (followed by purple stripes and marbled purple stripes) because of their incredible hardiness, wonderful flavor, excellent roasting qualities, large but manageable cloves, and high clove quantity per bulb. Downsides are that rocamboles do not store the best relative to other types and are best considered as an "in-season" garlic, and that a lot of rocambole varieties tend to double-clove.

You should find out what varieties other growers in your region are focusing on, and what is being offered at local markets, and what the popular varieties are that are selling at those markets, and then duplicate. Then also include some similar varieties that are perhaps not being offered, and also be willing to experiment to perhaps find a niche that will set you aside or make you stand out from the other sellers.

And absolutely understand that it takes years to acclimate acquired garlic varieties to your local growing conditions and soil type. I consider this one of the main factors that make the difference between just growing garlic and growing standout garlic. The other main factors are soil health, bed prep, planting date/timing, weed control, proper harvest, proper dry down, proper cleanup, selecting, and grading, and proper storage. The people who think that growing great garlic is simple are the ones who do not last long selling at markets.

Lastly, IMO and from my experiences, spring planting in the northern zones is a complete waste of time with the exception of perhaps planting bulbils for green garlic. (A wonderful, unique item for selling at early-season markets!) But those bulbils should just be planted the previous fall with the rest of the seed crop - there is no reason to have to worry about keeping them safe in storage for months until spring planting time.

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 1:39PM
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Hey Tom, I stand corrected! Haven't any experience growing rocamboles or porcelians, I guess I should review before I make such a statement. I really wish I could grow rocamboles, purple stripes or marbled purple stripes. I have attempted several marbled purple stripes such as Bogatyr and Metechi with little success. I have consistently been successful with several varieties of Turbans, Asiatics and Artichokes. I have been doing better with Creoles and hope to see some improvement in size this year.
Mikamondo, take Tom's advice and pay particular attention to your soil and prep work as well as curing and storage. It takes a lot of work but it will pay off. John

    Bookmark   January 6, 2014 at 8:09PM
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Tom (above) makes some good points on growing great garlic. Personally I like Music - it is a typical Porcelain but larger than most, and it acclimated quickly in my garden, producing huge bulbs in its first year. I like large cloves (can't imagine using only part of a clove - my recipes call for garlic by the bulb! :-)

I also had great success with German Red (Rocambole) in my Virginia garden. I bought the seed bulbs at the Saugerties Garlic Festival in New York and again they acclimated immediately, most matching the seed size. The climates are similar even though I am further south since I am at 2,600 feet elevation.

Other favorites are Russian Red (Rocambole) and Estonian Red (Marbled Purple Stripe), but these are taking much longer to size up.

I grew 400 bulbs in 2013 for my wife and I (we like garlic!). Much of this was peeled, chopped and frozen for use after the fresh bulbs are used up, and some was used in canning, roasting, freezing into olive oil cubes, and drying into garlic powder. I guess I went a little overboard because I now have so much land in VA, so I am cutting down this year (to 360 :-)

Such a fun crop to grow, and the scapes are a big bonus.


    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 9:30AM
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John (johnnp) wishes he could grow rokes and purple stripes, and I wish I could grow creoles and better artichokes and silverskins. I am experimenting with Asiatics and Turbans but have my doubts of success. It is funny that we gardeners and growers never seem to be satisfied with what we have, but challenge and pushing the envelope is often what keeps the interest (obsession?) going I think. :-)

"I like large cloves (can't imagine using only part of a clove - my recipes call for garlic by the bulb! :-)" - Believe me, I hear you. I will roast a whole roke bulb and eat it for dinner! But I think most people out there wish to use garlic as a subtle accent in food, they do not want it to be the overriding flavor. Those are the folks one must cater the marketing to, IMHO, because there are more of them then there are garlic fanatics. The garlic fanatics are well educated when it comes to garlic and are the easiest to sell to, all you need is to have quality product.

Education of the average customer is important - for example if a recipe calls out for "one clove" it typically means one small clove of that insipid, mediocre grocery store stuff. Use a golfball-sized clove from a wonderful organically grown porcelain variety and it could overpower all the other flavors in the food and disappoint folks who were unprepared for this to happen. I have heard complaints about how strongly flavored the boutique garlic varieties are compared to what people are used to using (as if this were a negative!). Most people's palates are still used to the crap grocery store garlic imported from China. People need to be educated, but palates need to be retrained as well.

Trivia question (market sellers should know this for their customers): For purposes of following a recipe, how much measured garlic is generally considered to be in one clove?

Hardneck scapes - yes, thanks for mentioning, I forgot about them. A wonderful product to sell at markets but they do not stay fresh for very long - the clock starts ticking as soon as they are cut. Another drawback is that they all need to be removed pretty much at the same time so you end up harvesting all of them at once. Also, most people have no clue what they are or how to prepare them, so you must be prepared to educate your potential customers. Best way to market these is to have the scape crop contracted to better restaurants ahead of time (not as difficult as you might think but you better look and act professionally or they will not give you so much as the time of day).

Other products - garlic powder, scape powder, chopped garlic, dried garlic slices, pickled cloves, etc. All market growers, if they are cropping correctly, end up with large amounts of reject cloves at planting time and those should be used for making saleable product if possible - would be a shame to just be throwing them away. Such products are not huge sellers but they make for a nice, "busy" market display and can be used as sales premiums and giveaways if nothing else.


    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 1:44PM
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Laughing, Tom, because what good recipe has less than three cloves of garlic? This time of year I'm cooking with the little guys, so five to seven cloves is a nice beginning.

Go figure, but I think local growers do best moneywise selling "green" uncured garlic at a buck a stalk. Most people have never seen it, and welcome its novelty.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 8:23AM
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"Laughing, Tom, because what good recipe has less than three cloves of garlic?" - Depends on the size of the clove and how many servings the recipe makes. *grin* I can easily overpower a single-serving meal using one large clove from a strong porcelain variety.

But that really is not the point. I do not want to drift too far off the main topic of this thread but I was just using the one clove example for the sake of simplicity. I will say, though, that IMO a lot of people use way too much garlic in their cooking. Garlic lovers and true fanatics (my brother being one) do not seem to realize that their bodies build up a tolerance to garlic, requiring them to add more and more in their food to get the enjoyment they desire. This often makes that food unpalatable to others who are not used to eating so much garlic or who might not care for it as much as they do. But hey, if it works for you and the fam then more power to you, nobody has the right to tell you how to eat or what to enjoy. As far as I am concerned the more garlic people consume the more successful the industry will be. :-)

As an aside, I once worked with a guy who was health-obsessed and an absolute garlic fanatic. I mean he was nearly addicted to the stuff. Grew his own, loved the flavor, and was totally convinced of its medicinal qualities. Used garlic in everything. He consumed so much garlic on a daily basis that he continuously reeked of it, and he was utterly oblivious to the fact. It oozed out of his pores. Needless to say he was not very pleasant to be around in the office, and because of complaints the boss finally had to tell him to take it down a notch. In spite of his good work record he did not survive the next round of layoffs, and people were happy to see him go. My point is that there can be such a thing as too much garlic (although my brother would vehemently disagree).

Have a great day!

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 2:02PM
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largemouth(Z6 NY)

In regards to scapes, and with respect to soilent green, my scapes stay just fine in my vegetable bin in the fridge for at least a month after picking.

Plus, I still have a bunch in the freezer I pull out during these freezing nights in northern Putnam County, in NY. This is the solution to all of them having to be harvested at once, which was correctly pointed out by soilent.

So, as far as the clock ticking after harvest, ain't no hurry, as far as I am concerned.

And, by the way, soylent green is PEOPLE!!!!!

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 10:28PM
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My scapes also last quite long in the refrigerator - this past year they were still snappy after two months! Normally they don't last that long, but we did not have a grill last year.

Re the stink factor, different people react differently. Some become odiferous after a single clove and others are still sweet after a bulb. I'm one of the lucky ones - never had a complaint, but then I shower daily and use a deodorant :-)


    Bookmark   January 10, 2014 at 9:51AM
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zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

"Other products - garlic powder, scape powder, chopped garlic, dried garlic slices, pickled cloves, etc."

Garlic scape powder... Tom, what an interesting idea. Sounds like something I'll have to try this year. Scapes are wonderful, but I can only eat so many, and their season is brief. It would be wonderful to be able to preserve the excess, rather than leave them laying on the garden path.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2014 at 12:38AM
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