Molly Hackett

Molly Hackett

Q: I think that it must be time to harvest my garlic. Is there some way to know when the right moment has arrived, or do I have to guess?

A: There are several ways to choose garlic harvest day. That day is important because if dug too soon, garlic will not develop its full potential for flavor. Also it may rot in storage. If left in the ground past maturity, garlic cloves will dry out when they are stored. They will shrivel and turn brown within a few months.

I prefer a system for judging garlic harvest time which is obvious and easy to determine. The one I have used for several years is simple: Garlic leaves die from the bottom of the stalk upward. When there are three or four dead leaves on the stem, it is time to dig the bulb. Commercial growers harvest a whole field at once. Home gardeners have the luxury of harvesting one garlic plant at a time, choosing the perfect moment for each.

After digging the garlic, spread a thin layer of plants outdoors in the sun for 24 hours. That will dry out any dirt clinging to the bulbs. Then move the garlic into the house or other protected space, out of direct sunlight. If you plan to make garlic braids, now is the time, while the stems and leaves are still pliable. Hang the braids on a rack to dry. All other garlic plants can be dried lying flat or hanging on a rack. Within three or four weeks the stems will be dry enough to break off just above the bulb, and a few loose layers will peel off the bulb covering. The garlic is dry.

Store the cleaned garlic bulbs where they get good air circulation. I hang them in a closet, in plastic mesh bags. Remember to save the best bulbs separately. They will be the source of the cloves to plant in October, for growing next year's garlic.

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Q: Help! My lupine is covered with aphids.

Q: What can I do about the aphids on my Brussels sprouts?

A: The treatment for aphids on any plant — flower, vegetable, vine, or tree — is the same. Wash the aphids off with a hard stream of water. Mixing any of a variety of chemicals into the water may kill aphids, but no more effectively than plain water.

The real challenge with aphids is that they are born live, not hatched from eggs, from a single female. She needs no mate, and estimates are that one female can lead to six billion aphids in a season. New aphids are born every day or two.

Before gardeners throw up their hands in despair, though, they need to remember a few things. Knocking aphids off plants with water is a permanent cure; they will not crawl back up. Newborn aphids require spraying with water every day or two, but an aphid outbreak lasts only two weeks at most. Aphids are at the bottom of the food chain. Healthy gardens are full of insects, birds, and small animals which love eating aphids for dinner. If the aphid eaters are not poisoned by insect-killing sprays, they will all be delighted to help dispose of the pests.

Take a look at the general health of plants attacked by aphids. Are they old? Crowded? Sickly? Suffering from dry soil? An aphid outbreak may be a symptom, not the cause, of a problem with a group of plants. If the problem is solved and the plants regain good health, aphids will try living somewhere else.

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Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email mhackett@centric.net. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.

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