Growing Garlic: Not Bad, Not Bad
Realization of the Day:
I'm a lot more excited about growing garlic after digging up this year's crop.
I'm doing a little back dating here, so that the garden journal date above accurately reflects the day I actually harvested my garlic, as opposed to the day—two weeks later—I'm finally getting around to writing about it. It would only be cheating if it were the other way around, right?
Last year I promised myself I would never again plant my garlic in February, which is about four or five months later than it should go into the ground here in southern Missouri. And this year I kept that promise—I planted my garlic in March instead.
My 2009 garlic is on the left, the purchased Amish garlic is on the right.
Yep, on March 6th I planted two types of hardneck garlic: some of mine that I'd harvested last year, and some from our Amish neighbors that I bought at the only store in town, which is 10 miles away. Talk about your one stop shopping. It's an odd little place, usually filled with various odd characters hanging around (we're all a little odd in some way around here) where you can buy everything from bags of potato chips to bar and chain oil, fence posts to frankfurters, gas and gates to—some days—garlic.
The only other business in town is the itty bitty post office, and it closes for lunch from twelve to one, which just happens to be the time I am almost always driving by. Thankfully I can call up to the store before I head out and ask the owner to go over and get our mail (which the postal service won't deliver to the farm) from the post office, so I can pick it up at my leisure from him, rather than racing out the door in the hopes of getting up there before noon. You also can't access your post office box unless the post office is actually open, but that's a whole other story, and I'm getting sidetracked.
So a little brown paper bag of garlic appeared on a dusty shelf next to the candy bars one day in late February, and the garlic looked pretty good considering it had probably been harvested the summer before. Big fat cloves, no sprouts showing, a sign that said 75 cents a head or three for a dollar.
"It's from the Amish," the store owner informed me as I started pulling out heads. I'm really beginning to love these people—and I still want to
build myself have Joe build me one of those sweet little cold frames. I bought three dollars' worth.
"You know you could plant this garlic," the store owner said as I paid for my garlic, two 50-pound sacks of alfalfa pellets for the sheep, a hundred pounds of oats, and a hundred pounds of dog food.
"That's what I was thinking of doing with it."
"But you know what you need to do?"
"Plant it real soon."
"Yeah, I know."
After tasting the garlic, I bought several more heads the next week for planting. I figured I had nothing to lose, though I didn't have real high hopes. I've grown some really nice garlic in the past, but most of it was many years ago, and it went into the ground in fall. Lately, for various reasons, my harvests have been downright depressing—including the year I spent $77.00 on the stuff.
Amish Garlic Plants on 4-11-10
I planted the bulbs about 2 inches deep with the pointy sides up in one of my 4'x8' raised beds, and then mulched the entire bed with a heavy layer of sheep manure bedding hay from the barn (you can see a photo of the half-mulched bed and read more about fertilizing with sheep manure here). What's great is that the mulch gives your plants a small dose of organic fertilizer each time it rains or you water, until eventually all the manure works its way into the ground, and you're left with a hay barrier impervious to weeds, and then that eventually breaks down and helps amend the soil, too.
Garlic Bed on 4-11-10
Garlic Bed on 4-20-10
Garlic Bed on 5-1-10
I was suprised at how quickly the garlic sprouted and took off—I mean, look at all that growing it did in just 9 days in April—but it soon became obvious that my pathetic little bulbs were no match for the Amish supercloves. See the spindly little plants in the back section of the bed? That would be my garlic.
My garlic eventually disappeared into the weeds, but the Amish garlic took off and put on flower stalks, called scapes, telling me that it was hardneck garlic rather than the softneck variety, which is what you find most often in supermarkets. (I also just read in the latest issue of Organic Gardening magazine that supermarket garlic is often imported from China and sprayed with toxic chemicals to keep it from sprouting.) These flower stalks need to be trimmed off so the plant will send all of its energy down into the bulb.
Garlic scapes are edible, and over the past few years they've become quite the darling of the food world. You can do all sorts of things with them—stir fry them, toss them in salads, put them on pizza, even grill them—and while many people claim they have a fabulous mild garlic flavor, mine are always really strong, to the point where all I taste is burning hot, and I'm somebody who loves the taste of garlic.
I tried making garlic scape pesto a couple of years ago (even took photos!), and oh my gosh did it leave quite a taste in your mouth—for days. I need to do more scientific research, but I think that the flavor has to do with the type of garlic plants the scapes come from. Also, some of the garlic scape pesto recipes I came across literally called for like just two scapes in an enormous quantiry of olive oil and cheese. I should probably try cooking garlic scapes, and see if that mellows out that harshness.
Another sort of byproduct of homegrown garlic is spring green garlic, which is simply a young garlic plant you eat most of, and it really is mild and tastes wonderful. In fact, I usually try to double plant my garlic so that I can pull out every other plant to eat as green garlic in the spring. You can read more about my love affair with green garlic here.
Anyway, I snipped off all the scapes (no idea what date) and fed them to the chickens, who mostly turned up their beaks at them. It is amazing what the chickens will eat, and they really help cut down the guilt factor when it comes to tossing stuff out, whether it's from the garden or the deep freeze. Pizza is one of their favorite foods.
The best time to harvest garlic, as well as plant it, is not clear cut, and I actually have a separate post planned about planting and harvesting garlic that I hope to have up soon. Hint: there is no one answer to either question, and right now isn't the time to do either. I dug up a test head of my garlic the first of July, when about half of the leaves on the plant had turned yellow, and it looked like the bulbs weren't quite formed and could use a little more time in the ground.
The tricky thing about growing garlic is that towards the end of its growing cycle, it shouldn't get wet, since this tends to rot the papery outer layer which helps it keep from rotting in storage. That's probably why garlic grows so well in northern California (where I grew up but never grew garlic), since it usually stops raining by April. Here in Missouri we have rain year round, though never on a certain schedule, which is probably one of the reasons my garlic suffers some years. Garlic heads left in the ground too long will also start to split apart, and this invites rot and insects into the exposed cloves.
Unfortunately I ended up in the hospital right about when my garlic was ready to harvest, and then it rained a couple of times. When I finally got around to digging it up on July 27th—by which time the stalks had completely dried out—I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
A lot of the papery outer layer was gone from most of the heads, many of the cloves were separated, and there was some insect damage, but overall it wasn't too bad, and the cloves were bigger than any I'd harvested in years.
I brought the loose cloves straight into the kitchen and laid the rest of the heads—with the stalks still attached—in a single layer on a big plastic shelf in the greenhouse, which I then blocked from most of the light with a piece of tin siding I found hanging around. You want the garlic to cure for two to three weeks in a dry, well ventilated place, out of the light. This was the best I could come up with. During previous years I've cured garlic and onions (though onions need to cure in the sun at first) on an old screen door laid horizontally and resting at the edges on boxes of canning jars up in the second story scary part of The Shack (lots of good ventilation that way), but these days it's just too scary up there.
I'm definitely going to hold back some of my harvest for (hopefully!) fall planting. But the rest will be put to good—and tasty—use. Need some fresh garlic inspiration? Below are some of my favorite ways to use it.
Did you grow garlic this year? How did it go? Any garlic growing tips, tricks, stories, or other interesting tidbits you'd like to share? Anybody ever plant theirs even later than I did? What happened? If you've written about your garlic growing adventures on your own blog, you're welcome to include a link to the post(s) in your comment.
What I like to make with fresh garlic? All kinds of things!
Quick and Easy Gazpacho (Cold Vegetable Soup)
My Favorite Lower Fat, Fuller Flavor Basil Pesto (made with almonds & fresh tomatoes)
Linguini with Olive Oil, Garlic, Romano, and Parsley (and a wonderful book for art loving foodies)
Low Fat, Full Flavor Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip (and factory tours)
Caramelized Beets with Garlic (I love these)
Kohlrabi Purée (this stuff is amazingly good - really!)
Three Onion and Three Cheese Pizza (and my favorite pizza dough recipe)
Swiss Chard and Artichoke White Pizza (a great way to sneak in some greens)
Garlic Lover's White Bean Soup (fat free, vegan, and delicious)
Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Onions, Garlic, Garbanzos, and Artichokes (and lambing season with my mom)
Thick and Hearty Italian White Bean Soup (and a book review: Keeping the Feast)
Grilled Lamb Burgers with Roasted Red Pepper, Parsley, and Kalamata Olive Relish (and a great farm to table cookbook)
© FarmgirlFare.com, the garlic breath foodie farm blog where try as I might, I am obviously incapable of writing a short garden blog post—and isn't it wild how different the colors are in the sunny garlic bed photos vs. the cloudy one?