The Winter Garden: From Horsing around to Harvesting Garlic
By Alex Tuchman: LUREC Farm Operations Assistant
As fall comes to a close and the winter frost begins to creep into the soil, the Loyola Student Farmers are working diligently to add the final amendments to their fields at Loyola’s Retreat and Ecology Campus. Students have been applying manure compost and mulch to the soil, while also planting many fall crops to replenish nutrients.
One of Bull Valley’s greatest local resources that benefit the Loyola Student Farm also happens to be a source of groundwater contamination: horse manure. Bull Valley is home to a very large community of horse breeders, ranchers and hobbyists with an excess of manure and nowhere to put it. The farmers haul the manure out of the barns and take it behind the property. There, it is put into large piles that can potentially contaminate the groundwater if it leaches through the soil.
Fortunately, the student farmers have developed partnerships with the local horse owners. The heap of manure has been playfully named “Poop Mountain” for its abundance. The students have been able to cut the "Mountain” in half by hauling the horse manure to the Loyola farm and spreading it over the fields each fall. In this way, the manure becomes a source of growth and fertility rather than a source of pollution.
After the manure and home-made composts have been spread, student farmers plant winter crops, such as wheat, that they will harvest next summer and grind into flour for bread-making. They also grow garlic, which they plant in the fall and cultivate through the winter to prepare for a spring sprouting.
In the Bull Valley area, farmers harvest their garlic in mid to late June. While it’s tempting to cook with all the fresh garlic right away, it pays to set the best and largest bulbs aside for the fall.
Loyola student farmers plant garlic by taking a clove and placing it, pointed-side-up, into the ground. The biggest and most beautiful cloves will produce the most substantial garlic bulbs, increasing the quality of the garlic over the long term.
This past year, the Loyola Student Farm grew 1,800 bulbs of garlic to sell at Loyola’s Farmers’ Market, the Retreat Campus Kitchen and to Community Supported Agriculture members.
Loyola student farmers also set aside three hundred of the best bulbs to plant this fall, and they look forward to a plentiful harvest next summer.