How does their garlic grow?David and Judy Glaeseman wanted to preserve the historical accuracy and integrity of their land. They wanted to be ecologically sound and socially responsible. They wanted to conserve natural resources. With any luck, they also wanted to make a little extra cash.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
David and Judy Glaeseman wanted to preserve the historical accuracy and integrity of their land. They wanted to be ecologically sound and socially responsible. They wanted to conserve natural resources. With any luck, they also wanted to make a little extra cash.
So they came up with a pungent solution – they planted garlic.
Five years later, the crop is still thriving, and clove-by-clove, it’s helping them achieve the goals they set for their fertile land across the street from Lake Miltona.
On a recent chilly, damp October day, the Glaesemans poked 3,000 cloves of garlic into mounds of rich, black dirt – thus continuing the root’s circle of life that started when they moved back to David’s childhood home in 2003.
The Glaesemans’ property has a long history of vegetable production. In the 1920s, the family that owned the home grew vegetables for the summer tourists.
“The piece of land that I have, there’s nothing else like it around,” said David, a master gardener. “It’s probably an alluvial black sand lake bed, that’s my best guess. It’s excellent for vegetable production.”
In the 1930s, the owner drilled a well and hit an artisan aquifer, which has been running ever since.
In 1999, although they lived and taught school in Wyoming, the Glaesemans bought the home from David’s father. When they moved back in 2003, the retired couple pondered the best way to supplement their income by putting the land back into production.
“With the uniqueness, the high fertility and the abundance of water, I knew it should be in food production, not simply a field, certainly not a condo,” David said. “I entertained a number of ideas. Garlic was one of them.”
After some Internet research and a trip to Roseau to buy seed garlic, the couple took a chance and in October 2004, planted the first crop of garlic – about 900 cloves – by hand.
“Everything was an experiment,” David said of the first crop.
With his extensive and lifelong background in gardening, not to mention his perpetually green thumb, the first garlic harvest in July 2005 was a success, and was a great learning experience for the novice garlic farmers.
In August, the couple took the crop to their first garlic festival in Howard Lake. There they connected with other growers and gleaned even more information about how to be proficient garlic farmers. And they sold almost the entire crop to Dakota Garlic in Edgerton – except for the seed necessary to produce the next season’s harvest.
How garlic grows
In Minnesota, garlic is planted in the fall, usually about the first or second week in October. Using seed from the previous harvest, the Glaesemans break apart each bulb of garlic into its separate cloves. One bulb can contain anywhere from four to 12 cloves.
Each clove is dropped into a hole about four inches deep – pointed side up. Then the rows are covered with dirt and mulch and the garlic sets its roots over the winter.
In April, the plant pokes up through the ground about the same time as daffodils and tulips. It grows rapidly in May and June, its spiky green stalks reaching about 30 inches tall. Mid-June it sends up a flower scape, which has to be cut off each plant, by hand, so the energy goes into growth of the bulb, not the flower.
The third week of July through the first week of August, the garlic is ready to harvest – a laborious and time-consuming task.
“It’s really a dance to see if it’s ready,” Judy said. “It pushes you along to get it done.”
The couple digs out all the garlic and cleans each and every bulb by hand. They put them in bundles of 10 and hang them in the drying shed for three to five weeks to cure. Then they pick and choose the seed stock for the next year’s crop.
Next, they cut off all the green stalks and clean each bulb again. Finally, the garlic is ready to take to the garlic festival, which is held the third weekend in August. The next couple months are spent weeding and preparing the garden for the October planting. Finally, they break apart each and every bulb by hand into its separate cloves that they will plant to produce the next year’s harvest.
And then it starts all over again.
A labor of love
As their knowledge of garlic has grown each year, so too has the amount they have planted. While 900 cloves produced the harvest the first year, they recently planted 3,000, comprised of several varieties. David diligently keeps track of the statistics for each variety, which determines whether they will plant that type the following year.
“Every year we have some that don’t produce well, so we don’t grow them the following year,” Judy said.
Despite all the hard work, as the Glaesemans push that last little clove into the ground, it is with a sense of accomplishment, contentment and knowing they are using the soil in the most ecologically-sound way they can.
“It’s a challenge to keep going at times,” Judy said. “But garlic is so rewarding. It’s a beautiful crop.”
“It’s that human spirit thing, what we are capable of doing,” her husband agreed. “It’s a socially responsible product to have on the shelves.”
Garlic isn’t the only plant that keeps the Glaesemans in touch with their gardening roots. They also grow several plants for Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in Missouri, including several varieties of beans, okra, cucumbers, melons, peas, squash and other vegetables. The company sends them the seeds, they grow and harvest the produce, collect and dry all the seeds from each plant, and ship the seeds back to the company.
Like the garlic, knowing that their seeds are perpetuating the history and sustainability of the fertile land on which David grew up makes those months of hard work worth every minute.
“It’s rewarding even though you may feel like you’re hitting your head against the wall. We need to keep some of this stuff going and going in a historical way,” David concluded. “It’s good to see a bucket full of seeds that has the potential to save this human race we are running.”