Yet another casualty of this growing season’s weird weather was our garlic crop. Normally garlic is something that we plant, mulch, rarely water, weed maybe once, and harvest – all without any great effort on our part. But this year the crop looked sickly, which we thought was the result of drought and extreme heat. We didn’t start irrigating the garlic right away since we usually are stingy with our limited supply of stored rainwater on crops that are mulched, well established, and can usually get along without supplemental water. Given the reduced snow cover over the winter the ground may have been dryer than usual and the late irrigation didn’t improve the situation It was obvious at harvest time that this was the worst garlic we have ever grown and we had a hard time coming up with nice bulbs to set aside for planting. We put the garlic in our shed to dry/cure as we have done for many years. After drying, the bulbs for eating had their tops cut off before putting them into wire baskets for storage, as is our usual procedure. The bulbs for planting were left hanging in bunches in the shed.
We didn’t really think anything else was wrong with our stunted crop until I started dividing up bulbs last week, in preparation for fall planting. About 1/3 of the seed bulbs had funky, inner wrappers not readily visible from the outside (kind of moist, very dark colored, and the smell was kind of sour). Startled by these findings, I decided to inspect our eating stash and the problem was nearly 100% in these small bulbs. We hadn’t started using any of the new crop as we are still using up the last few 2011 bulbs which, even after a year’s storage, look much better than anything we grew this year. The elephant garlic was also smaller than usual this year but didn’t seem to have any other problems. Two hardnecked varieties were entirely affected, one which we had decided to drop anyway and a rocambole we’ve had for over 25 years which we only grew out of habit, not because it was anything special. We have limited amounts of both Porcelain and Russian Giant (our best keeper which we wanted to expand) that seemed to be unaffected which we’ll use for planting. That only leaves us with 2/3’s our usual numbers to plant.
Anyway, we started shopping immediately for garlic seed as I remembered ordering stock for an organic vegetable farm I used to work for and running into availability problems this late in the season. Garlic is about double the price that I remember from 4 years ago. I did manage to track down a few bulbs from a local organic farmer which I’ll pick up at the Farmer’s Market. In talking to him, he mentioned that there was a state-wide garlic crop failure. This link is to some info that the Seed Savers Exchange has posted about the disease, Aster Yellows. https://www.seedsavers.org/pdf/phytoplasma.pdf
It seems that the Aster Yellows disease, a bacterial infection, is normally found in native plants in our area. The extra warm spring made the garlic come up earlier than “normal”, coinciding with an earlier than “normal” migration of leaf hoppers. The leaf hoppers spread the disease from native perennials to anything else they happen to feed upon like our early garlic and transplants of celery and celeriac, also vulnerable to this disease. Most of our celeriac died off completely and our celery looks hideous and not really edible. I thought this was due mainly to drought stress but we had tried to keep both of those crops watered. Carrots can also be affected, but we planted our carrots late and so far the carrots look good.
After examining our eating stash we didn’t think it would store well as it looked like the spoilage on the wrappers would spread into the cloves, even though they currently looked fine. So we decided to dry the entire crop to salvage it before it went downhill. We spent a couple of mornings peeling and dicing the cloves to put them into the solar dryer. The wrappers didn’t peel easily as they were kind of disintegrating. What a mess, but at least we had good sun for drying. We now have over a half gallon of chopped, dried garlic that can be blended into garlic powder or reconstituted as is.
Visually, our garlic seed stock looks OK. They were the biggest bulbs and don’t appear to have the spoilage on their wrappers, but I can’t find any info about the systemic nature of this disease. Even if I did, I don’t think we could get other planting stock at this late date. We’ll plant it in a new area in our garden just in case there is any carryover in the soil. And we disposed of the infected debris instead of composting it. Next year we’ll put Remay over the garlic planting early on to keep the leaf hoppers off and hopefully this will have been only a gardening fluke and not part our our new yearly routine.