Planting Like a Garlic Master - A Day Volunteering with Sandhill Farms
Tue, October 24th, 2017
A scene of Eden, Utah. Photo courtesy of Lizzy Totterer.
A farm-to-table paradise
Nestled in the hills of Eden, Utah, family-owned-and-operated Sandhill Farms grows a wide variety of garlic, as well as fresh produce and herbs for individuals and local restaurants. They have grown over 30 different varieties of rare, gourmet and heirloom garlic from around the world.
We had the opportunity to join Pete Rasmussen, also known as Farmer Pete, during Sandhill Farms' volunteering day last Saturday. And, believe it or not, it’s not too late to plant garlic!
"Farmer Pete" isn’t your run-of-the-mill farmer.
Pete has been growing garlic for over ten years. At the age of 22, he began cultivating the 2-acres his parents’ house sits on in Eden. What started as his back-yard farm, has since become Sandhill Farms. Today he farms on ten acres of land from a 19th century dairy farm named Sunnyfield Farm.
While they do grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, Sandhill Farms’ specialty is garlic. This October and November the farm is expecting to plant seven varieties. But according to Farmer Pete, they are always fine-tuning and trying new varieties.
We will plant about 1,000 pounds of garlic. This equates to about 5,000 heads of garlic, 35,000 individual cloves and 35,000 heads in 2018.
That’s a lot of garlic.
Additionally, the farm prides itself on the long-term fertility of its soil by using organic growing methods. The use of any chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides is strictly prohibited.
Seed garlic is a typically selected by choosing the largest, healthiest bulbs of garlic that are harvested from the previous crop. Planting the largest cloves from the largest bulbs ensures substantial and healthy sized bulbs for the following crop.
Bulb size diversity is important. With certain varieties, smaller bulbs store longer into the winter than larger bulbs. Sandhill Farms tries to plant all but the smallest cloves during planting time.
When you join Sandhill Farms for their volunteer planting day, you will not only leave with some garlic of your own, but you’ll also gain a myriad of uncommon and — yes, even exciting — knowledge. Passionate in his field (quite literally his field), Farmer Pete is extremely erudite regarding garlic, both on the farming of garlic as well as its nutritional properties and the different ways it is cultivated and used around the world.
At the end of the day, Pete shared black garlic with the volunteers. Each broke off a clove and nibbled on this little-known treat that tasted more like candy than garlic. Originating in China, this time-intensive method of preparing raw garlic is considered a delicacy.
Volunteers also learned some useful “farmer speak”. (Disclaimer: straw hat and strand of wheat to chew not included in guide.)
The process of breaking apart the bulbs of garlic into cloves, leaving as much of the papery sheath around the clove as you can. The smaller cloves are separated out from the larger ones that will be used to plant.
Derived from the verb "dibble", meaning to make a hole in the ground for planting seedlings or bulbs — usually with a pointed tool.
When placing garlic into the ground, volunteers held the cloves with the pointed end sticking up toward their palms and the rooted end pointed down towards the ground.
A farm tool called a “rolling dibbler” creating holes for garlic planting.
Next, the volunteers push the garlic into the ground up to about the third knuckle. Because the soil has been prepared and treated with organic fertilizer beforehand, it is soft and fertile, so pushing the garlic into the ground is easy.
Each clove is planted with pointed side facing upward and basal plate, or root zone, downward.
Pro Tip: Sandhill Farms plants their garlic with the more bulbous, convex side facing south. This way, when the garlic begins to grow and sprout its leaves this spring, all the leaves are uniformly facing in the same general direction helping to maximize the amount of sun each plant receives.
Garlic takes approximately 9 months to develop and ripen. Once put in the ground in fall, it will lay dormant during the cold winter months protected by nutrient-rich soil and a cozy blanket of snow.
Freshly “popped” seed garlic waiting to be planted.
There is something comforting in knowing each resilient, tiny clove of garlic is patiently waiting and storing energy only to burst into action come spring and multiply, budding into a bulb with a dozen or more cloves.
Sandhill Farms is also home to the annual summer “Garlactica” garlic harvesting event. Farmer Pete invites the community to this family-friendly event each July, in which volunteers can come help harvest the bounties of the farm’s famous garlic, participate in contests, listen to live music and, most likely, take a handful of the delicious bulbs home to enrich their cuisine. An example of a true practice of farm-to-table.
For more information on the farm and where to get their garlic, visit the Sandhill Farms website. Depending on the time of year you can find spring garlic and scapes, fresh (wet) garlic as well as cured garlic, braids and more. Stay tuned via their Instagram where they regularly update local garden and culinary enthusiasts about farm events and happenings.
Pete Rasmussen grew up on the Olympic Peninsula before his parents relocated to Eden, Utah. He attended University of California – Santa Cruz where he became involved in the art of agriculture and sustainable farming. Pete worked closely with UCSC’s Center of Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems research farm....Read more