This week at Mujeres Unidas, heads and heads of garlic were harvested, and several tomato plants were pruned, everyone anxiously awaiting the day when sweet, juicy, plump red goodness will adorn plants instead of the green fruits hanging about them now (which are still delicious in their own way… fried…). There were several questions that arose when harvesting garlic and pruning tomatoes, several that may be swirling around in your mind as well, so why don’t I take the time to clarify and perhaps help answer some of those questions?
It’s pretty incredible that an entire head of garlic grows out of one little clove, eh? But the problem with garlic is that it grows underground, so, unlike squash, it’s difficult to tell when garlic is ripe and ready to be harvested. Garlic generally takes a good while to mature – planted in fall months, it usually ripens by June or July. In order to tell if garlic is ready to be harvested, look to its leaves. When 1/2 to 3/4 of garlic leaves turn brown, this is a sign that garlic has matured. Dig up a bulb using a small pitchfork – oftentimes it’s too difficult to grab the leaves and pull – and check it to see if the cloves within the bulb have filled out the skins. If they have, then keep harvesting; if not, leave your garlic in the ground for a couple more days, and try again. I know, it’s difficult to wait for garlic to mature – but in the meantime, enjoy their delicious, curly garlic scapes.
After harvesting your garlic, don’t remove the tops and roots. Instead, shake off any clinging dirt and place in a well-ventilated, shaded, dry area and allow to cure for three to four weeks. After it has cured, you may cut off the roots and stems or braid stems together. Keep garlic in a cool, dry place – it should last for six months or so, allowing you to enjoy fresh, homegrown garlic throughout the fall and winter months. It may also be wise to save a few cloves for seed for the next season’s planting!
Pruning tomato plants is vital to ensuring that you get to enjoy the highest quality and yield of tomatoes from your vines. Over-pruning, however, can be detrimental – plants are generally pretty resilient and able to bounce back quickly if you wrong them – but take extra care when pruning. To prune a tomato plant, start by removing any leaves on the lower portion of the stem that may be yellowish-brown or touching the ground. Doing so will encourage energy to flow upward, causing your plant to continue to grow upward towards the sky. Be careful not to remove too many leaves, as leaves are vital to plant growth. Leaves are your plant’s “solar panels” – they capture the energy from the sun, converting it into food and nutrients, which are obviously necessary for plant growth and fruit production. If you remove too many leaves, the plant will not be able to get enough energy!
Suckering is another aspect of pruning that will encourage your plant to continue to grow upward, as well as directing energy to developing fruits. Suckers develop between the plant’s main stem and a leaf stalk. If you allow a plant to go “un-suckered”, it will branch out, directing energy towards several stems instead of one. This is okay, however your plants will be much more productive if these suckers are removed and not allowed to fully develop. To remove suckers from plants, simply grasp between your fingers and pinch off. Be careful not to remove the very top portion of a plant, as it may resemble a sucker – this is the plant’s apical meristem – the part that produces new tissues and keeps it growing upward. Like I said – plants are resilient – this part will eventually grow back, however the plant’s growth will be temporarily stunted.
I am certainly no expert on either of these topics, but I hope to have provided you, gracious reader, with some idea of how to accomplish either of these tasks. Happy gardening!