September and October are the busiest harvest months on the farm if the weather cooperates. In addition to our own work, Dad has been helping out my uncle Johnny with his corn and soy harvest, driving trucks and running augers to move grain from place to place. With that harvest finally complete, we snagged a couple of beautiful days to plant more than 2,000 row feet of garlic.
We grew the garlic “seed” ourselves this year. It’s not true seed that we’re using – since garlic is a biennial, we are actually planting the individual cloves from the largest heads of this year’s garlic crop.
Several years ago we bought a mixed bag of garlic from an organic grower in the area, so we’re not sure exactly how many varieties we have. As you can see in the photo above, there seems to be quite a bit of beautiful variation.
The first step in the garlic planting process was to borrow a 5-foot tiller and use it to make some beds. We tilled the beds once in late September, and then we tilled the same spots again just before planting to soften the ground and kill the newly-sprouted weeds.
The strings, posts, and two-by-fours are an ingenious bed-planting alignment system borrowed from our friend Clare. It helped us make five neat rows in each bed. The newly-tilled ground was so soft that we could plant just by pushing each clove into the soil with our hands.
After about a day and a half on our knees, it was time to mulch. We got some untreated straw from a local farmer and forked out a thick layer over the beds. The mulch will insulate the garlic cloves over the cold winter months and suppress the weeds in the spring.
We were definitely ready for our tea break after that. And maybe a couple of Tylenols to go with those organic apples.
Come next June and July, we’re expecting to harvest many pounds of scapes and about 5,000 heads of garlic!
Other Fall Fun: Beans, Wheat, Power, Prairie Grass, and Cover Crops
In other news this month, we finally got a couple of dry days to harvest our soybeans (below) and four varieties of dry beans.
The waiting period was pretty stressful: we needed about three days without rain to dry out the bean pods and stalks so that they could go through the combine, and then a day or two to harvest them…and it rained about every 2.5 days for weeks on end.
The soybeans went straight to the local grain elevator (since we’re not yet certified organic, they have to be sold on the conventional market). We have had the edible beans tested, and we’re working on cleaning them for sale.
After the beans were out of the field, we planted 5 acres of hard red winter wheat and 8 acres of soft red winter wheat. Less than a week later, it had germinated:
Hopefully we’ll see the green fuzz of new wheat plants in the field soon!
Thanks to our new membership in the Corn Belt Energy Cooperative, we now have power on the farm. We longer have to run a noisy generator whenever we need to use a vacuum or a saw. This also means that we can start working on larger-scale grain storage options.
The tillage radishes that we planted in August after the sweet corn harvest have gotten huge. They’re definitely doing their job of breaking up the soil and creating deep-soil seepage pathways.
One of our major farm goals is to keep our soil covered at all times. We try to leave ground bare for no more than 3 weeks. In addition to the tillage radish, this year’s wheat ground is covered by red clover, the oat ground is covered by alfalfa, and the bean ground (as we mentioned) is now planted with next year’s wheat. No part of these plants will be removed from the farm – their job is to capture nutrients and store them for the next crop, along with preventing erosion, adding organic matter to the soil, improving soil water-holding capacity, and providing wildlife habitat.
We also noticed recently that some of the prairie grasses are starting to take hold in the prairie restoration area. Our NRCS biologist, Mark, says that he can identify both big and little bluestem among these grasses that are taller than we are.
Whew! Now that the harvest and planting are complete…well, we’re ready for some down time. We have plenty of work doing clean-up, putting the garden to bed, and preparing beans, wheat, and flour for sale to keep us busy for the coming months.