Amid the lush green pastures of Redlands Mesa, Amy Daniels and Marty Baran are harvesting a pungent crop of garlic.
At one time, Amy and Marty raised 18 different types of garlic on their small operation, Rocky Mountain High Garlic Farm. “We’re down to five or six this year,” Amy said. “Every year we weed out one that we’re not happy with. Either it doesn’t perform well, or the bulbs are not uniform.”
This year’s harvest includes Tuscan, a Mediterranean garlic with a warm spicy flavor. Purple haze has a strong pungent taste, but won’t overpower the flavors of your everyday meals. Bold-flavored Chesnok Red is best for baking and serving whole. The well-formed “music” variety has a strong, robust flavor. Siberian will leave a pleasant aftertaste in your mouth.
Size is of less importance than flavor, Amy says. Cooks find the bigger bulbs easier to handle, but they don’t always taste the best. She strives to produce a nice-sized bulb that’s bursing with flavor.
Having whittled down the varieties, Amy and Marty are now faced with a decision. They need to either replace the wooden raised boxes, or get out of the business altogether. It’s a decision they’ll have to make by October, when they plant some of the cloves they’re reserved from their harvest. The bulbs sleep all winter, sending green shoots up toward the spring sunshine, about the same time daffodils start to make their appearance.
Each bulb will have six to eight cloves, Amy explains, and each clove will make a bulb. The bulbs are placed about six inches deep in a nutrient-rich soil Amy makes herself. A series of raised beds is labeled with the type of garlic contained within its wooden walls.
Although the garlic is not certified organic, Amy uses only all natural liquid fish fertilizer from DR Fish Fertilizer, which is also located on Redlands Mesa. Pests are rarely a problem, and weeding is done by hand.
Harvesting is done by a crew of Amy’s friends who carefully dig down under the big bulbs, without nicking the surface with a trowel.
“I have as many hands on deck as I can find,” she said.
Harvest begins early in the morning to protect the bulbs from the hot summer sun. With the stems still attached, the bulbs are laid out on drying racks in the barn. After three weeks, Amy again enlists help to take off the stems, carefully clean the outside of the bulbs, and cut off the roots. Then she moves all 2,000 or so bulbs down to the cool, dark garage where they’re allowed to cure for another two weeks.
“That’s what makes my garlic different from what you’ll find in the grocery store,” Amy explains. “Sometimes you’ll find the bulbs are already starting to sprout; mine won’t do that.
“If you buy enough to last until next March or April, mine will be just as good as it was the day you got it.”
This year, Amy has also been harvesting the “scapes,” the seed pods that extend from the center of the plant. In the garlic world, Amy says, they’re also called bulbis, because they tend to be a teardrop shape.
When the scapes first appear, they’re tightly wound; as they straighten out, they’re supposed to be trimmed from the plant.
“I used to throw them away, but then I went online and found a recipe for scape pesto. This year I decided to bag them and stick them in the refrigerator. I plan to take them to the farmers’ market at Plant-It-Earth in Cedaredge.”
Although Rocky Mountain High Garlic Farm has a website, www.mountaingarlic.com, Amy prefers selling her garlic at the farmers’ market. The garlic is well received and she has a chance to meet a lot of nice people.
Amy also shows her garlic at the fair, along with herbs, flowers, fruit, photographs and an occasional craft project.
“I’m a fair junkie,” said Amy, as she pointed to her flower garden, which is fenced to keep out the deer which roam Redlands Mesa.
“This whole garden is for the fair. I used to do vegetables, but then I got into flowers. I swore I would never take dahlias and gladiolas out in the fall and put them back in the spring, but of course I do that now. After the fair, the grasshoppers can have it if they want it.”
The quest for blue ribbons and a love of the outdoors drive her competitive spirit.
She once raised just horses, but after 25 years finds herself “horseless” for the first time. “It’s liberating,” she says.
“These are my babies now,” she adds, pointing to the wooden boxes filled with garlic bulbs just days away from harvest.