CTG Week 12: July 20th to July 26th – Urban Homesteading and Harvesting Garlic


  • Field trip to Ethan Thompson’s urban homestead
  • Harvesting garlic
Having Fun on the Field Trip
Having Fun on the Field Trip

This week the class was lucky enough to take a trip to Ethan Thompson’s urban homestead in the Old North End of Burlington.   It is amazing what Ethan has accomplished on such a small plot of land.  The urban homestead movement is now “trendy” but what does it really mean to homestead?  It is all about taking a step back in time and living a more sustainable, purposeful life.  This can include growing your own food, reducing waste, and living a more modest lifestyle through the process of working and understanding your land and the wildlife that inhabits it. Ethan uses a variety of techniques to adhere to these tenets.  One that I couldn’t stop thinking about was hugelkultur.

Huglecuclture Mounds

Hugelkultur, pronounced Hoo-gul-culture, means hill culture or hill mound.  This is a time tested permaculture technique that creates raised beds, packed with nutrients. Ethan uses hugelkultur in his backyard homestead as a way of recycling and using materials that would normally have to be moved off site and disposed of.  He does this by turning those materials into highly nutrient rich soil.

Ethan Talking about Huglecuclture

The hugelkultur beds are created by stacking logs, sticks, branches and leaves into a mound and covering it with soil. One of the reasons that hugelkultur is so successful is because it mimics the decomposition process that happens on a forest floor.  The benefits of this technique are numerous. The slow decay of the wood is a consistent source of long-term nutrients for the plants.  A large bed might give out a constant supply of nutrients for 20 years, sometimes even longer if you use hardwoods. The composting wood also generates heat which helps to extend the growing season.  Not a bad thing for gardeners like us in a cold climate.  The logs and branches also act like a sponge. Rainwater is stored and then released during drier times.  This gives you the freedom not to water after the bed has established itself, which usually takes about a year.  So basically you have a “no till” bed, that waters and composts itself.  Not too shabby…

Harvesting Garlic
Harvesting Garlic

After our wonderful trip to Ethan’s it was time to get back into our garden.  Lucky for us the garlic was ready. You can tell your garlic is ready for harvest when the tops start to die back, leaving the garlic leaves looking yellow and brown.  Unfortunately, this technique is still a bit of a judgment call.  If you are unsure dig one plant and cut open the bulb, if the cloves are full and developed, lucky you it’s ready!  Always dig your garlic, NEVER try and pull it. Even though you planted a small clove the bulb is now several inches deep, with a strong root system.

How to Cure or Dry Fresh Garlic for Use and Storing

  1. Brush off any soil that is covering the bulb, however leave the stalks and roots on the bulbs while they dry.
  2. Allow the bulbs to cure, or dry, for three to four weeks in either a well-ventilated room or a dry, shady spot outside. Sunlight can change the flavor of fresh garlic.
  3. Once the tops and roots have dried they can be cut off and disposed of.
  4. You can also further clean the bulbs by removing the outer skins. Just be careful not to remove all layers of skin and expose any of the cloves.

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