Farm Life Vegetables and Berries

Straw or No Straw?

Weed control is an obsession for the organic farmer who is constantly seeking to minimize the time spent weeding (a thankless chore, according to most). Take fall garlic, for instance. Planted in October, it spends winter in a dormant state, but is quick to sprout as soon as spring temperatures beckon. Unfortunately, it does not lack for company, even this early in the season – so weeds must be dealt with swiftly to prevent their competing for nutrients in the soil. While it is a bit rich to speak of two “garlic schools of thought,” there are those who believe it paramount to cover the bulbs with straw as soon as they are planted in the fall, and those who believe weeding, be it by hand or mechanical, is preferable at a later stage in the garlic bulb’s life cycle. We sit squarely on the fence between these two opinions, but only because we did not have time to lay straw last fall before the first snowfall. Recognizing how tedious weeding several beds of garlic may soon become, we laid a thick layer of straw this week in a bid to avoid being overwhelmed come June. While there seems to be no meaningful difference in yield between garlic with straw and garlic without, straw means better water retention, a plus during hot, dry summers. Late June-early July baskets will include garlic scapes (fleurs d’ail), with real garlic expected by late July.

“A garlic caress is stimulating. A garlic excess soporific.” (Une caresse d’ail revigore, un excès d’ail endort) – Maurice Edmond Sailland (1872-1956), better known by his pen-name Curnonsky and dubbed the Prince of Gastronomy, reportedly the most celebrated French writer on gastronomy in the 20th century.