Tricks of the Trade

Link Henderson '97, owner of Kentucky Mudworks

Put Down that Grocery Store Garlic! 

Link Henderson '97 on growing your own garlic   

If you want to experience a whole new world of flavors, consider growing your own gourmet garlic. There are more than 800 varieties of garlic, all of which have their own flavor profiles. The variety available in most grocery stores has a mild, shallow flavor compared to what you could grow yourself.  Homegrown garlic is one of the easiest crops for any novice gardener. It attracts few pests and diseases and requires very little fussing.

Here are a few tips to make your garlic-growing experience bountiful: 

Purchase certified disease-free seed stock from a reputable online seller. Place your order in early spring for a fall delivery. Garlic is planted six weeks before the average first frost in your area. (Here in Kentucky that is mid- to late October.) Garlic stays in the ground for almost nine months before it is ready to harvest. Start with two varieties, one pound each, for enough to feed a family for several months. 

Prepare your soil. Garlic requires soil rich in organic matter. Add a healthy amount of blood meal at planting time and mix into the top layer of dirt. Raised beds are the best way to grow garlic. Garlic grown at ground level tends to rot. 

Break the heads apart into cloves, leaving the wrappers on the cloves if possible and plant five to six cloves per row, six inches apart. Separate your rows by about eight inches. Each clove will grow into a new head, so they need room to expand. Plant four inches down with the pointy end up, leaving about two inches of soil on top of each clove. In very cold climates you may want to plant deeper to protect the cloves from hard freezes. 

Mulch your bed. This is a controversy among garlic growers: to mulch or not to mulch. And if so, with what?Commonly used mulches for garlic include compost, leaves, wheat straw and alfalfa hay. In my experience and climate, alfalfa hay is the best mulch for garlic. Compost, leaves and wheat straw can hold too much moisture and cause rot. Alfalfa hay retains moisture but still allows the soil to breathe. As the growing season progresses, the alfalfa hay breaks down and adds nitrogen to the soil, which garlic loves. I shake a six-inch-thick layer of alfalfa hay on my garlic field right after planting. If you choose not to mulch, just be prepared to weed constantly.  

Watch for little green shoots trying to break through the mulch in the spring. You can move the mulch aside if you see that some cloves can't break through in areas. Garlic doesn't require much fuss until the weeds start to grow. You must weed religiously (I recommend by hand) or your garlic will be small and sickly.  

If you want to fertilize, you can, but only in the spring. I use a foliar spray made from liquid fish emulsion and dried seaweed powder sprayed on the leaves every two weeks during April or May, depending on the weather and size of the garlic. Some people just sprinkle more blood meal around the plants. Garlic has the same water needs as most other crops, about 1 inch per week. I prefer to let Mother Nature pay that water bill, but if the soil becomes dried and cracked, I do some watering. Do not water your garlic the last two weeks before harvest. You want it to begin drying in the soil. 

Depending on your climate, garlic is ready to harvest in June or July. The garlic will tell you. When two to four of the lower leaves begin to brown and a few of them have dried completely, it is ready to harvest. Dig the soil around the bulbs and loosen it with a shovel or pitchfork until the heads pop out of the ground, then lift by hand and shake off the dirt. You can strip the top leaf layer off to clean the garlic, but do not wash it. Leave the roots intact. Tie five to six plants together and hang them in the shade under a carport or porch to dry for four to five weeks. Once the heads are fully dried, you may trim the roots to 1 inch and cut the dried leaves off to 1 inch from the top of the bulb. The heads are ready for storage.  

Stick With the Pros 

When it comes to restoration work, David Bowers '71 sees little room for error 

Through Carlisle Antiques, David Bowers '71 dedicates his life to restoring antique furniture and building reproductions of period pieces. As he spends his days turning back the hands of time on furniture and clocks damaged by age and well-intentioned amateurs, the question is bound to come up: When restoring a piece, do you ever make a mistake?

In many crafts or creative activities, accidents can be part of the process-and may actually contribute to the work. When restoring a priceless artifact, however, there is no room for error. Slip-ups or unexpected results are not acceptable. 

I have found that there are times when I need to take things very slowly. Of course, recognizing these instances is the tricky part. Experience is a good teacher in this regard. Being careful amounts to being aware of when to slow down and think through what needs to be done.

The other aspect of not making a mistake is being in top form. There are days when I don't feel particularly sharp for one reason or another. Those are days when I do something that does not require my full powers of concentration, and I will put off a critical operation until the next day. So I need to be aware of my mental and physical well-being to maintain consistent quality of my work. 

What Matters Most 

Dana Southworth '93 counts the key ways to build or remodel sustainably  

Size matters. We are inspired by Sarah Susanka's Not So Big House philosophy. Susanka posits that smaller homes are better suited to meet our needs. Saving money on the added materials involved in a building a bigger home can be put to better use in higher-quality materials and more-efficient design. 

Efficiency matters. In the United States almost 50 percent of our carbon emissions come from the construction and operation of our buildings. With climate change and peak oil upon us, it is of paramount importance that we design and building super-efficient, high-performance homes.

High-performance buildings in [New England] climate are designed to rigorously retain heat energy. A highly air-sealed building requires a mechanical ventilation system. A minimum R-40 and R-60 thermal performance on wall and roof assemblies, respectively, and a very low rate of air infiltration are at the core of this reduction in heating loads. Aggressive air sealing coupled with high R-value assemblies and triple-pane windows allow us to dramatically reduce the amount of heat required to keep a home warm through our harsh winters. 

The added cost to this robust envelope is mitigated by a big reducation in the size of the heating system. Essentially, we take money from the heating budget and add it to the envelope. The bulk of the home's fuel consumption is used to heat the building. This is where the greatest gains in efficient can be made. 

Other opportunities for improving efficiency come from domestic hot water (DHW) and electrical use for lighting, refrigeration and entertainment. We typically specify low-wattage CFL and LED light bulbs, low-flow faucets, 1.0 gpf toilets and 1.5 gpm shower heads. We use meters to allow homeowners to monitor their energy use. Knowledge is power. 

Materials matter. The timber in our frames is locally harvested. Using local materials in all phases of construction is a priority for us. 

Wherever we can, we use salvage materials. On a large scale, we can reuse entire structures, turning old barns into new homes or studios. On a small scale, old panel doors and salvage wood for floors add beauty and warmth while conserving materials. We make an effort to use recycled materials where appropriate. We recently discovered a gypsum wall board that uses recycled drywall. Like salvage materials, this keeps waste out of our landfills.  

We are committed to using low-volatile organic-compound (VOC) paints, sealers and binders. The subfloor and sheathing we use has no urea formaldehyde binders in it. The paints we specify are non-VOC.

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Handmade & Homegrown

Published October 22, 2013