Please note, as I shift gears to focus on two final festivals, all new orders will be shipped on October 4th at the soonest, and October 11th at the latest! Only garlic currently in stock is pre-busted cloves of Pskem River (click banner here), or pre-busted Shandong Purple (find in the Asiatic family). Thanks!

How to keep over one hundred garlic varieties separate

One of the most common questions I get at garlic festivals is "How the heck do you keep them all separate?!" Other people openly question if I succeed in keeping them separate. I have to say- I take keeping track of the different heirloom types very seriously, and there's no way to do it other than lots of time spent in information management, and a fair amount of startup money in supplies.

I start with 12 inch white garden stakes, with the variety name written on one side. After the fall planting, I do a spring and summer patrol of the field double checking for fading stakes, touching them up with a black chisel-point Sharpie (large chisel point Sharpies are a triumph of market forces, by the way. Treat yourself to chisel points and you'll never look back).

I buy bundles of 4 foot long hardwood stakes, and I superglue clothespins to them, two to each stake (on opposite sides). I use the clothespins to hold the 12 inch stakes horizontally, making them readable even when the garlic has grown to 3 or 4 feet high. Every 4 foot stake eventually has two 12 inch stakes- indicating what variety lies ahead from whichever direction you approach from.

Garlic variety markers

After my October/November planting, I immediately go to the field and use a metric survey tape to measure the borders between every single variety, accurate to the centimeter. Something like this:

0.00 to 17.24, Ajo Rojo

17.24 to 23.14, Rose de Lautrec

And so forth. If I were to ever lose the stakes, I'd still be able to reestablish the transition of varieties using the survey tape and a standardized starting point (the 0.00 mark). I always have a notebook hardcopy and then a spreadsheet uploaded to the cloud.

As a backup to the transition measurement, I plant the ends of garlic varieties in a special way. Normally the garlic is planted at 3 or 4 rows, at a standardized distance from each other, but at the end, with the variety I'm finishing, I plant extra garlic in the in-between spots of the normal rows. This makes every end of a variety have a distinct stop pattern, almost like a punctuation mark. Using survey tape and the punctuation mark, I can reestablish every transition even if the stakes are ever lost.

During harvest time, I have a minimum of one variety ID stake per crate. All garlic is directly harvested into small one bushel crates, or occasionally into a single wheelbarrow load to deliver to the drying location. No garlic is ever transported without at least one ID stake in it. I unclip the 12 inch stakes from the 4 foot stakes and throw them in before I harvest the type.

This process of carefully managing the stakes throughout the clipping and bagging process (where each bag will be tagged with a variety marker) continues right on through. If I drop a bulb and lose track of which it was, or anything happens, it is set aside and not sold or planted. I cook myself pans of roasted garlic from such drops or mishaps, though thankfully they're quite few. Now that I've got a black garlic machine for home use, suitable ones are chucked there, too.

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