Dave and Sasha Purpura have grown their German Extra Hardy, Russian Red and Music garlic organically for five years, saving and replanting their largest cloves, which Dave calls his “Big Fatties.” Customers happily purchase garlic scapes in early summer and fresh or dried garlic later in the summer. Their original organic garlic seeds were purchased from Fedco Seeds.
All crops are rotated around the farm. Fall carrots follow garlic, and garlic follows onions. Dave said this is because they work hard to keep onion beds weed-free. Garlic and carrots all grow much better without weed competition. Dave and Sasha run soil tests each September. Compost and local aged sheep manure is added at about 1 pound per square foot. Other organic amendments are made per soil test recommendations. Soil pH is generally 6.8 to 7.
Stale seedbed weed management is practiced with several cultivations between onion harvest and garlic planting. With this preparation, very little weeding is needed in the garlic beds. Any remaining fertilizer or amendments are added and tilled in a day or two before the planting party and seedbeds will be rolled and dibbled.
Garlic Planting Day
Since 2007, Garlic Day has included over a dozen loyal volunteers who gather on Columbus Day weekend. The Purpuras know the garlic could be planted a week or two later, but schedule their event for a greater likelihood of good weather to help volunteers enjoy their farm experience.
The day starts with a couple of hours of breaking up the dry garlic heads into individual cloves amidst great conversation and laughter. The team plants individual cloves in dibbles made by a water wheel planter. Garlic is planted 2” to 3” deep at 6” spacing. Dave does not ask volunteers to push soil on top as the first rain will push soil into the dibbled holes and cover the cloves. Beds are five rows across by 250 feet long.
Planting each bed of 2,500 garlics takes just 15 minutes by this dedicated volunteer team. After the job is finished, volunteers and farmers enjoy a delicious lunch made with farm-grown ingredients. Everyone has a great day, and the volunteers accomplish more than farm staff could finish in a week.
Dave said he prefers 1″ to 1.5” of non-matting straw as winter mulch. The idea is to prevent the sun from warming soil surfaces to prevent a thaw/freeze cycle and winter heaving.
Thicker layers of mulch or manure were tried but the garlic had trouble pushing through in the spring, so Dave went back to using thin layers of straw. He said, “Be sure to avoid hay with weed seeds!”
Blood meal fertilizer is top dressed each spring per soil test recommendations. Most of the farm gets a fishmeal spray up to three times each summer. Dave loves it when the farm smells like “a trip to the beach.” Weeding should be done as needed. Competition will mean smaller bulbs.
Garlic like many vegetable crops needs 1” of rain each week while it is actively growing. For ideal bulbs, be prepared to irrigate as needed.
Harvest and Drying
Garlic plants will send up scapes in early summer. Cut them off just as the tops begin to curl; customers are happy to buy them.
Ideally, there will be two to three weeks without rain close to harvest time in mid-June. About 1/3 of the visible plant will brown starting with the bottom leaves, showing you it is time to harvest garlic.
Wash the roots to remove soil; Dave said his customers love garlic with clean white roots. Leave the tops attached and dry on screens or benches out of direct sunlight. Do not store garlic wet. Sort at harvest time, and sort again after drying. Keep only the largest heads with the largest cloves if you will be saving and planting your own garlic.
Damaged heads, small heads or heads with small cloves can be cut in half and processed in a dehydrator. Dave and Sasha recommend doing this in a barn or outbuilding as the smell is overpowering. To make your own super-potent garlic powder, pinch the dried garlic to pop it out of the papery on a rainy fall or winter day and grind it in a blender.
Because Purpura saves his own garlic, buys new garlic from reputable sources and plants isolated rows rather than large fields of garlic and onions at his diversified farm, he has not experienced the intense disease pressures that other garlic growers have seen.
Farm Sales and History
Plato’s Harvest is a small, family-run, 3-acre organic farm in Middleboro, MA growing healthy food, nutritious soils and community. The Purpuras sell their certified organic garlic, heirloom vegetables, flowers, meat, eggs and honey at local Farmers Markets from mid-June through the end of October:
- Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA on Tuesday afternoons from 12:30 to 6:00
- Plimouth Plantation, Plymouth, MA on Thursdays afternoons from 2:30 to 6:30
In 2005, Dave started farming full-time after leaving behind a high-tech career with free time, a 401K and a well-tended backyard garden. Dave’s summers had included strawberry picking, bringing in hay and other farm work so he did have an idea of what he was getting into. Everyone told Dave he would not be able to make a living as a farmer, but it works for Dave and Sasha. The Purpuras enjoy self-sufficiency and a simple life at their Massachusetts home 45 miles south of Boston.
The Purpuras have created a local community of friends and CSA members who join the annual garlic-planting party; interns gather each summers to help on the farm. The farm kitchen is filled with the scent of fresh bread and stories of the day. Loyal Farmers Market customers return each week, year after year.
For more information including a video on Plato’s Harvest Organic Farm, click here or here, email Dave or call 508-315-9429. You can also write to Dave and Sasha at 131 Chestnut Street, Middleboro, MA 02346.
More than 25 farmers and gardeners attended the Purpuras’ program on growing garlic co-hosted by Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP) and Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts (NOFA MA) as part of their 7-workshop Twilight Grower Education Series.
A similar story ran in the October 29, 2012 New England issue of “Country Folks.”garlic