By: Amy Grant
My association with cloves is limited to glazed ham spiked with them and my grandmother’s spice cookies lightly accented with a pinch of clove. But this spice is actually used extensively in a number of cuisines, including Indian and even Italian where pasta might be brightened up with the addition of a little clove. Anyway, because of my limited interaction with the spice, it came as quite a surprise to find out that cloves are the unopened flower buds of the clove tree. This fact got me to wondering about harvesting and picking cloves.
About Harvesting Cloves
The clove tree is a tropical evergreen of the family Myrtaceae that reaches heights of between 25-33 feet (8-10 m.). Native to Indonesia, the tree produces clusters of flower buds, which when dried become brown, hard and nail shaped. In fact, their English name is derived from the Latin word “clavus,” meaning nail.
When to Pick Cloves
The cloves you use to flavor your dishes are the result of at least 6 years of growth on the part of the tree. Six years is the minimum time it takes the tree to flower, but the tree doesn’t actually reach its full bearing until it is around 15-20 years of age!
There is no clove harvest guide per se that tells you when to pick cloves. Clove picking commences once the tree buds turn from green to a pinkish-red over the course of 5-6 months. At this stage, they are picked and sun dried for 4-5 days.
As the waxy buds dry, they turn a dark brown as their volatile oil, eugenol (also found in basil) concentrates. It is this oil that makes the spice so aromatic and also a strong natural antiseptic and anesthetic.
How to Harvest Cloves
Buds are harvested when they are under an inch (less than 2 cm.) long, before they turn pink and open. Picking cloves must be done carefully lest branches are damaged.
Once harvested, the buds are either sun dried or dried in hot air chambers until they have lost two thirds of their original weight and have darkened in color.
The dried cloves may then be ground or sold as is and used not only to flavor foods, but also for use in Chinese or Ayurvedic medicines. Cloves may be used as an oral disinfectant. It has analgesic and anesthetic properties. It has been used to treat diarrhea, bloating, stomach ailments, and even sore throats.
Cloves essential oil is used in toothpastes, soaps, detergents, creams, perfumes, and mouthwashes. It is a popular ingredient in alcoholic beverages, sodas, and even Indonesian cigarettes; a mix of tobacco, cloves and mint.
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10 Types of Garlic Every Gardener Needs to Know
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a perennial flowering plant from the Allium family. Its close relatives include onions, shallots, chives, and leeks.
Garlic plants grow from bulbs in tall flowering stems and can grow up to 3ft high. In the northern hemisphere they flower in the warmer months July through September.
Typically the bulbs contain between 10 to 20 cloves, but this can change depending on the variety. The cloves have a strong aroma and are covered in thin sheathing leaves.
When planted at the right time and depth, garlic is very hardy and will grow as far north as Alaska! This, plus the numerous health benefits, are some of the reasons why it’s a must-have in any home garden.
Why Grow Garlic?
Garlic is fun and easy to grow. There really is not any tedious element to this crop.
Growing your own garlic gives you access to a whole world of flavor and texture beyond the typical grocery store variety.
Growing garlic also gives you access to garlic scapes if you grow the hardneck variety. This is a fun and ephemeral harvest that is often not available commercially.
Garlic is typically not preyed on by insect pests, and its odor can repel insects from other parts of your garden.
Not all folk remedies have stood the test of time, but grandparents who insisted on consuming garlic for health were right on the money. Garlic contains many compounds, but allicin (pronounced like my name, Allison) is the main active ingredient. Allicin has been proven in clinical trials to have antibacterial, antiviral, and tumor fighting properties.
In pictures: Zanzibar's clove harvest
The archipelago of Zanzibar in Tanzania, sometimes known as the Spice Islands, was once the world's largest producer of cloves. It is still an important industry for farmers on the island of Pemba as the BBC's Ruth Nesoba found out during the harvesting of the flower buds which when dried are used as a spice in cooking, to flavour drinks like mulled wine and in medicine.
The months of September, October and November are the crucial time of year for clove farmers on Pemba. It is the period of the short seasonal rains when the cloves are harvested by hand. Bunches on lower branches can be pulled off or shaken free.
Harvesting is strenuous work. The bunches of cloves can be tucked away in dense foliage where they are difficult to get at.
Clove trees can grow up to 15m (49ft) high. Farmers are often skilled climbers, scaling the trees to pull bunches off higher branches. Many people on the island depend on cloves for their livelihood. That has been the case since the trees were introduced from Indonesia around the turn of the 19th Century.
Here at Konde village, as in much of Pemba, every family member is expected to help. Men, women and even young children get up early to help pick the cloves. Scaling the trees is generally left to the men, while women and children gather the cloves that fall to the ground.
The picked flower buds and leaves are carried in a gunny sack from the farmers' land to the villages. The crop is then sorted to separate the leaves from the buds. Both are left to dry in the sun. The dried leaves are crushed and can be used in perfumes and fragrances. They are also used in an oil which can have sanitary applications and is sometimes used in dentistry.
The buds are dried on mats in the sun. At this time of year one often sees mats covered with drying cloves lying by the roadsides. The cloves are left out for about three days. As they dry, they release a sweet, heady aroma, which wafts throughout the island.
The cloves are then carried to the collection centre. There are three government-run collection centres in Pemba. Farmers from Konde take their crop to Chake Chake.
Here the cloves are sifted by hand to remove dirt and other unwanted particles. It is a thorough procedure intended to ensure that the final product is of high quality.
The sifted cloves are then laid out where they can be checked for quality and tested.
The final crop of dried cloves is then weighed. Each farmer is paid immediately. For every 90kg (198lb) sack a farmer receives $720 (ВЈ460). A 1kg bag fetches $8.
The heaviness, dryness and smell of the cloves are checked. Indonesia is the biggest grower, importer and consumer of cloves, producing between 60,000 and 80,000 tonnes a year. But Zanzibar cloves from Pemba are in great demand, says Suleiman Jongo the deputy director of Zanzibar State Trade Centre.
"The cloves have a very strong aroma and the majority of the flower buds are large and intact, making them among the best in the world," Mr Jongo says.
The cloves are put in sacks and taken to the warehouse awaiting transportation to the packaging centre from which they will either be sold locally or exported for use in cooking, medicines, cosmetics, or clove cigarettes which are popular in Indonesia.
The tricky matter of when to harvest garlic
T IMING IS EVERYTHING, they say, and with garlic harvest that’s especially true. But since the crop is hidden underground, how do you know when this edible Allium is ready—when it’s just the right moment to insure a well-formed head that will also store well through the winter and beyond? Like fortune-telling, it’s all in reading the leaves, apparently. When to harvest garlic–and how:
Don’t let its relatives mislead you. Garlic’s close cousin, the onion (Allium cepa), is more adaptable about its ideal moment to be lifted and cured. You can simply let the tops (leaves) die down right in place, delaying digging a bit to when it’s convenient. Or if you’re in a rush, move things along (assuming the bulbs are well-formed) by knocking over the foliage to urge the plants toward their finale.
With garlic, though, waiting until all the leaves go brown will promote overripe bulbs whose cloves are starting to separate from one another, and the resulting un-tight heads won’t store as long. Each leaf that browns is one fewer potential wrapper to protect the bulb. (Counterpoint: Harvesting too soon can also diminish the bulbs’ shelf life in storage, and may limit the bulbs reaching full size.)
Most experts say to harvest when several of the lower leaves go brown, but five or six up top are still green—and depending on the weather, this typically happens here in my Northeast garden in late July. Above, those are a few plants just as they came from the ground one year. Early bouts of sustained spring heat can push the garlic a little ahead of schedule (as with so many other plants), and have my harvest curing extra-early, a process that takes three to eight weeks, before the tops will be cut off, the roots trimmed, and the cured bulbs stored.
In the curing there’s another difference between the most popular Allium cousins, garlic and onion: Assuming it’s a dry day when harvest comes, onions can be left out to dry right beside the rows you dug them from. Not so with garlic, which should be moved out of direct sunlight immediately once unearthed. Move it to a garage or porch or shed where the air circulation is good.
Harvesting garlic couldn’t be easier, as long as you remember one thing: Though tempting, do not try pulling the bulbs out by the above-ground stems, or at least without first loosening the soil alongside each row with a spading fork (not too close to the heads!). Garlic stores best when cured with its leaves on.
Other factors that affect the timing of garlic harvest besides the weather, is what kind of garlic you planted.
Softneck garlic (Allium sativum), the most common type of supermarket familiarity, has a row of largish outer cloves and a row or two of inner small ones. It would keep better than what I grow, but I like the bigger (though fewer-per-head) cloves of the hardneck kind…
…because hardneck garlic (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) is better-adapted to Northern winters (its long roots hold it in the heave-and-thaw ground especially well), and frankly I just hate all those tiny inner cloves of softneck at peeling time. Nor does comparatively puny softneck make as nice a roasted head of garlic as the bigger-cloved kind.
Hardneck kinds also send up a scape—really a woody flower-stalk-to-be—around June, signaling a month or so remaining before bulb maturity. I cut the scapes off when they start to develop (above), and use them in stir-fries, oiled and grilled, or pureed with cheese as a pesto on pasta. I’m not being selfish by harvesting them then (though they are delicious) rather I’m telling the plants to put their energy into bulb production, not sexual reproduction.
Most experts agree that is the benefit of removal, though some say leaving it on produces better cloves for replanting as your “seed” stock. I frankly have no idea what’s true (as with so much of gardening, you go on gut) I cut them off.
I make it all sound like a lot to ponder, but garlic is easy to grow. It took me a mere 15 minutes to harvest my crop of about 75 heads today, and not much work before that, frankly, either.
Once cured, I’ll stash most in a cold, dark spot–and freeze a portion of my harvest, so I have my own garlic all year round. More on storing (and freezing) for the long haul.
How i got to harvest: growing garlic
G ARLIC IS PLANTED in the fall, around October locally in the Northeast, with the biggest and best cloves from the biggest and best heads of last year’s harvest chosen to use as the “seed garlic” or start of the next crop. (The full how-to on growing is here.)
I’ve also written before about harvest and curing details here (along with the subject of multiplier, or perennial, onions—which I didn’t do so well with in my Northern garden but mean to try again, but that’s another Allium story for another time).