You can’t beat homegrown garlic

Garlic on drying rack

I’ve been banging this drum for years; you simply cannot beat the flavour of homegrown garlic. That’s why every year we plant some bulbs, grow them organically before harvesting enough to get us through a few months without having to resort to sub-standard supermarket fare that’s been flown halfway across the world.

This year we tried two varieties; Cristo (one of our favourites) and Solent Wight. We did have a pretty bad case of rust, but it just seemed to affect the leaves and not the bulbs (and it means we won’t be able to grow any allium on that patch for a few seasons). The Cristo definitely outperformed the Solent Wight in terms of bulb size, but I feel like we didn’t have enough of a cold snap at the beginning of the year to promote bulb growth and division.

Regardless, we’ve seen got a few decent sized bulbs, and crucially, they smell just amazing. Last year I lost a lot of bulbs as I harvested them during a prolonged spell of rain and damp weather, and they went soft and mildewy very quickly. This year, we’ve had the intense heat and lots of sun, so the bulbs have been drying out nicely on a rack in the greenhouse. I’ll wait until the outer layers of the bulbs are papery and crisp before transferring them indoors to store somewhere cooler but with plenty of air circulation.

Garlic growing in spring

Garlic growing earlier in the Spring

One of my simple pleasures in life is to make homemade vegetable soup from homegrown ingredients. The addition of homegrown garlic and onions brings a new level of flavour and fragrance to my cooking and just takes it into a realm of its own. Rich is more of a fan of homemade garlic bread, and we both enjoy the zingy fresh flavour in homemade pasta sauces too.

After eating slightly disappointing shop-bought garlic for a few months, I really don’t realise what I’m missing until I take that first taste of homegrown. Next time, we’ll grow even more to get us through the year. And if you haven’t tried it, you should. You’ll never look back.

When to Harvest Winter Squashes

What is great about this whole veggie growing shebang is that I’m always learning. Always. Every year is different, and I’m constantly picking up new titbits of info.

This year is the first year that I’ve successfully grown any fruits on my squash plants. They’re a mishmash of different winter squashes (some of which remain unidentified), and are getting pretty big now. Having lacked any previous experience with these beasts, up until an hour or so ago I wasn’t entirely sure what to do next. I mean, when exactly do I know when to harvest them? Should they ‘cure’ before I pick them? Is the fact that the vines are dying back normal or a bad thing? Wah!

So having done some preliminary research, I decided to share my findings on when to harvest winter squashes – just in case there’s some readers out there that, like me, have great gaping gaps in their knowledge.

And this is what I found.

Firstly, with winter squashes, dying back vines doesn’t seem to be an issue. In fact, it just makes getting to the fruits much easier. If you’ve already got a number of fairly large fruits on the vine, by late summer/early autumn you can begin to pick off the smaller fruits, to help direct growing energy into the larger squashes. (But I’ve just allowed mine to continue growing. It’s my first year, I’m experimenting to see how late I can start growing a decent sized fruit).

When exactly you harvest your squashes depends on when you intend to use them. For instance, if you’re going to stick them straight into the pot the evening after you’ve picked them, it’s fine to pick whenever you feel the urge. But if you’re keen on amassing a pile of squashes for storage, the longer you can keep them on the vines to develop tougher skins (and grow bigger!), the better. Some people generally go by the rule of waiting for the first frosts to arrive before they begin harvesting their squashes.

I’ve read that once the squashes start to colour, they can be cut and will mature off the vine. I’m not sure if this applies to all varieties of summer and winter squashes, so if anyone knows differently, feel free to leave a comment.

Another method is to give the squash a gentle knock – if it sounds hollow, it’s ready for harvesting. If it’s a dull thud, leave it a while. When cutting pumpkins from the vine, try to leave a little ‘handle’ of vine – just makes it easier to handle. But with other winter squashes (butternut et al), the vine should be removed to avoid puncturing other fruits. The outer skin is the only protection the inner flesh has, so if it’s punctured, the squash will be vulnerable to all sorts of pests and disease. So take care!

‘Curing’ is the period during which the fruits toughen and ‘ripen’, enabling them to be stored over winter. Winter squashes can be cured in a greenhouse at temperatures ideally around 70-80F (approx. 21-26C) for around two weeks. Chilling can cause breakdowns and damage to the flesh, and usually occurs below 50F (10C), so try to avoid leaving them out on cool or frosty nights.

Once the squashes have cured, they should be carefully handled, as bruising, rough handling, too-tight packing and piling too high can all cause problems with breakdown, fungus or bacteria later on. The squashes should be stored at around 55F (12C), or air temperature, to avoid condensation. If the humidity of the storage area is too low, the fruits can shrivel and dry out. Equally, if the storage area is damp or humid, then rot is likely to set in. A well-ventilated, shady but dry area is best and should provide an effective storage area for up to 2-3 months.

Good-o. I think that answers my questions, at least. I think I’ll wait for the first frosts to arrive, then I’ll be ready to start curing. And I don’t have to worry about the vines dying back – that’s always a bonus.