When Ross and I bought our little 10 acre farm we both had grand dreams of all the bounty we would harvest. I know I wanted to get more animals which lead to the purchase of Mama and Charolette. Ross, however, had big dreams of being a farmer. Being the equipment nut he is he envisioned a life on a tractor tilling the land and harvesting his crop. But first, he had to decide what crop to try.
After a little research we decided our first crop would be garlic. Most of our research showed that if you can grow it, it can be a great cash crop for the small farm. There are two reasons garlic works great for small farms like ours:
1) Garlic is very labor intensive so even if you dump a bunch of money into the fanciest equipment there is still a lot of manual labor that goes into growing garlic...something my grandpa would call sweat equity! This means that the conventional commercialized farms in the US (where labor isn't cheap) don't grow garlic.
2) Most of the garlic sold in the US is imported from overseas (where labor is cheap)and is of a very generic variety. Which leaves a huge opportunity to grow organic specialty varieties without ANY competition from the grocery conglomerates.
So, for the past few months Ross has been plowing, discing, rototilling and hilling one of our pastures into our garlic fields. We finally settled on buying the seed from a Washington state grower and an awesome neighbor and fellow garlic grower hooked us up with some of his prized seed. At $13 per pound it cost about $800 in seed so our experiment got pretty expensive pretty quick.
$800 worth of garlic seed
The fields are ready!
Since garlic is a winter crop and it doesn't compete well with weeds, it usually requires a mulch. There are about a million different things you can use to mulch garlic and depending on who you talk to you will get about 100 different suggestions. We finally settled on burlap bags for two reasons. The first is that they are good for rainy areas because the rain will go through the burlap thus needing less irrigation. Secondly, in the Seattle area where there is a Starbucks on every corner, the coffee roasting companies give burlap away by the thousands and you can't beat FREE! So, Ross found a local coffee roatser and loaded up 6,000 burlap bags onto the trailer (even though we only needed about 600, Ross can't pass up a good deal)!
A bail of 1000 burlap bags
So the last week we have been experimenting with how we will use the burlap bags on our raised rows. At first we thought we would cut holes in the bags about 8" apart. We invited my grandma over, who is our farm's biggest fan, and we cut about 150 bags each with five holes down the center. 150 bags and a few blisters later we decided that was way too much work cutting the holes and by the time we finished it would be time to harvest, so figured out a work around and decided we would just lay them on the ground leaving a strip for planting and then we will use a straw mulch over that.
Ross marking the bags for the hole spacing.
Grandma helping cut holes in the burlap.
This last weekend we planned to lay out all of our bags, but of course our region was issued a winter wind advisory. Knowing wind would be a continual problem we laid a few bags to see if all our effort was in vain. Much to our surprise none of the bags moved despite the 40 MPH winds so the next days we bared the crappy Seattle weather and laid all our burlap mulch.