GARLIC IS HOME GROWN IN FAMILY BUSINESS
In a horse barn in Cove,there are 9,000 exotic garlic bulbs hanging upside down like beautiful, pearly white bats.
There are 17 varieties here at Northeast Farms that were harvested in mid-July. They hang to dry, silently waiting to be trimmed and sorted by their
From the 9,000 organically grown cloves Northeast Farms planted last year only 7,000 bulbs will be good enough to sell or use as seed stock.
The rest will be culled and discarded. This fall, the farm's owners hope to increase their planting to 10,000 cloves, which may yield 8,500 good bulbs.
"And you always save the biggest and the best for seed stock," says Annie Burnham. She is one of three partners in a family business that includes her sister, Sarah Watson, and their father, Ed Bayly.
This is the farm's third harvest and third year in business. They are already meeting expenses.
"We're pretty happy," Annie says. "Everybody always says it takes five to seven years to get off the ground."
Their third year has also brought increased yield and bigger bulbs.
"I think we finally learned something," says Ed.
Before Northeast Farms started this venture, Sarah did a lot of research on crop possibilities and alternatives. Everything she found out convinced her garlic was just what they were looking for.
"Garlic is hardy, drought and cold tolerant, easy to grow and a good cash crop," she says.
Annie and Sarah retell a tale told to them by garlic grower and mentor Lynn Stein from Joseph.
Stein said one year the garlic she had planted had already grown about two inches above the ground when Joseph had a cold snap. Everything above ground died, but the garlic grew back and was fine.
The only ticklish thing with growing garlic is it must be rotated every five years to let the ground rest. Sometimes the soil can hang onto mildew and bacteria that will ruin the bulbs.
Northeast Farms is certified organic, so chemical treatment is not an option.
"We went through some pretty rigorous testing to be certified," Annie says.
The best method of dealing with disease organically is with prevention by providing the healthiest soil possible.
"All advice suggests to rotate every five years, so we wouldn't want to take the chance and not do it," Sarah adds.
As far as pests go, Annie says they really don't have a problem with any except the gophers.
"Actually, the owls and feral cats usually take care of those, anyway. We encourage the barn owls," Annie adds with a smile Â— she likes barn owls.
And though Northeast Farms is just six acres, even 9,000 gloves of garlic will only take up about one-quarter of an acre of ground, so there is plenty of space to rotate the planting, as well as expand next year.
Besides the old horse barn where welcome barn owls obligingly co-habitate with garlic, Northeast Farms has a perennial garden, a greenhouse, a shade house and Â— of course Â— a comfortable, old farmhouse. Ed and Annie live at the farm, while Sarah and husband Jan Â— who runs the tractor on the weekends Â— live in Union.
Besides garlic, Northeast Farms sells organically grown perennials Â— orchids and other flowers, herbs, native plants and unusual ornamentals.
It seems Ed has a knack for growing the unusual. When he retired in 1984, he and the girls' mother started a nursery growing exclusive and unusual perennials. Their business was successful.
"Very successful," adds Annie.
"He's always told us to go for quality, not quantity," explains Sarah.
She and Jan had been living in Union for about 10 years when the girls' mother died.
"We'd always wanted a little family business, so we talked Dad into coming here in 2002 and I came with him," says Annie, who had spent 35 years working in nursery business herself. "Dad's really the one who knew what to do. We couldn't have done this without him."
"He's the one who knew how to do everything," agrees Sarah.
The sisters say Ed does most of the desk work, takes care of all the seeding and propagation, built the shade house and is always upgrading, improving and generally tinkering with the farm.
One thing he doesn't do, however, is have his picture taken.
"Oh, I'm on display at the market every Saturday," he says with a grin.
Indeed, you can find Ed, Sarah, Annie with their certified organic garlic and perennials at La Grande's Farmers' Market in Max Square from
9 a.m. to noon every Saturday.
If that doesn't fit your schedule, give Northeast Farms a call at 568-4695 during the weekday.
If they're there, they're open for business.