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Mickey Harley of Bhavana Berries. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

Mickey Harley is convinced he presents something no one else does on the North Fork — a hands-on garlic-harvesting experience.

At his farm, Bhavana Berries in Southold, visitors are welcome to grab a brightly colored shovel and pluck an odiferous head of garlic straight from the ground. Such interactivity, often abbreviated in signs as “U-pick,” is common with other fruits and vegetables — but Harley believes he is the only farm in the area to offer garlic as an option.

“There are a lot of other garlic farmers, but I don’t know of any that do U-pick,” he said.

Harley isn’t even a large-scale garlic farmer himself: the majority of his property is a commercial blueberry farm. He has offered U-pick blueberries for several years and decided last year to add garlic as an option “for fun.”

This year, he is “more serious” about the fragrant bulbs. He planted 20,000 heads of Bulgarian garlic, which has a purple tint and a stronger flavor, and 5,000 heads of elephant garlic.

The elephant garlic runs $5 per bulb and the Bulgarian costs $2 per bulb. Harley has no limit on how many each customer can harvest at a time.

Although the crop typically begins its season around July 15, Harley said his is ready and he started selling it in u-pick fashion last weekend.

And he said demand is already high.

“People enjoy it,” he said. “Last weekend, we had a nonstop flow of people. Even this whole week, which has not been the greatest weather, we’ve had a steady flow of people coming here.”

For Harley himself, U-pick offers an opportunity to engage with his customers in a more personal manner.

“I like the direct contact with the customers,” he said. “It’s fun and it’s what the North Fork has to offer.”

The farm attracts people from “all walks of life,” Harley said, because of garlic’s versatility across a wide range of cuisines.

“Most people use garlic,” he said. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t use garlic in their cooking. You get so many different ethnicities that use it in their cooking and talk about it all the time.”

He did say, however, that guests are often surprised to find garlic sticking out of the ground.

“People are fascinated by garlic, too, because they don’t know how it’s grown,” he said. “Most people are like, ‘I didn’t know if it grew off a tree or a bush.’”

Picking the garlic isn’t terribly hard: a line of colorful shovels sits along the fence ready for use, as do buckets to help carry the plants. You’ll need to stomp on the shovel with some force, but thanks to some wet weather, the ground was fairly soft during a recent visit.

The secret?

“Make sure you keep the shovel a good six to eight inches away from the stalk, otherwise you’ll chop right into the bulb,” Harley said.

Bhavana Berries is located at 4395 Hortons Lane in Southold.

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