Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Garden Garlic

Garlic Braid

I grow garlic every year. I plant it in the Fall and harvest it the next Summer. I tried growing garlic bought from a seed company the first year, but found that not only was it very expensive, it did not grow well in my garden. So the next year I bought a handful of ordinary garlic from the supermarket for about 50 cents, took it home, separated it into "toes" (leaving the paper skin on each toe), and planted it in my garden pointy side up about 1 inch deep in the soil. I watered it as I would any garden veggie until the Winter rains came. Then I pretty much ignored it and left it to grow on its own until the warmer weather came back the next Spring and Summer.

When the garlic tops (leaves) started to turn brown in late May or early June, I test-dug one bulb to check for size, and then harvested all of the bulbs over the next day or two. I washed each bulb with cold water and veggie scrub brush, leaving the long stem and leaves intact. I then braided the garlic as best I could to hang over my kitchen sink in front of the window to dry and to be handy when I needed it for cooking. I made sure that I reserved 3 or 4 nice looking heads for planting next season's crop.

I have been growing and harvesting my homegrown garlic in this way for the past 10 years. Each year I use some of the garlic that I harvested in the Summer to start my new crop in the Fall. It works very well, and I have been very happy with the results. Some years have been better than others. Other years have had odd weather and small bulbs resulting. Some years have had huge bulbs produced. One year I had an invading gopher (yes, in my raised bed!) and had to dig up my half grown garlic bulbs and transplant them into another raised bed to finish out the growing season while we repaired the hole in the original raised bed. That was fun. Not.

Anyway, until this past year I usually planted the same type of garlic each year. Descendents from that original handful that I purchased at the local market. The common California White, a softneck variety of garlic. I live fairly close to the Garlic Capitol of the World, Gilroy, CA where there are fields upon fields of CA White garlic growing prolifically. I am sure there are other types grown too, but the most common one we see in the markets is CA White softneck.

I have always enjoyed my homegrown CA White. It has a medium-strong garlicky flavor that I used in a variety of dishes. It keeps very well hanging in braids in my kitchen for months after I harvest it in Summer. It is easy to peel once it has dried a bit.

This photo below and the photo of the garlic braid at the top of this post is from my current crop of CA White softneck garlic. I think it is beautiful. I love looking at it, and enjoy having it decorate my kitchen.

California White Garlic

Last Fall, inspired by my local organic farm store's variety of garlic that they had for sale and also by two of my favorite blogging friends, Farmgirl_dk from Critter Farm and frugalmom from Fancyin' the Farm Life and both of their garlic gardening adventures, I decided to try growing a few different types of garlic along with my favorite CA White. I chose about 4 varieties from the farm store. I don't even remember their names. One was purple. One was reddish brown. Another was tan. At least two of them were hardneck varieties. One was the standard CA White like the one I had already grown. I thought I'd compare store-bought to my own homegrown garlic descendents as far as growing and bulb production.

So I planted my usual 5 or 6 rows of garlic, some of the new varieties along with my CA White, each row having about 7 or 8 plants. They all sprouted and grew through the Winter months. This photo shows how my garlic bed looked in late Spring:

Garlic Growing

That's broccoli, lettuces, chard and bok choy you see growing in between the garlic rows. I find that the close proximity of the garlic helps repel the bugs and slugs from my tender greens.

I found that my homegrown CA White garlic descendents grew much bigger and stronger than the store bought CA White, by the way. I have a theory that has proven true with many crops in my garden. My theory is that plants adapt to their local environment, the weather, the soil, the air, the gardener's vibes, and whatever else affects plant growth. I have noticed that each succeeding generation of plants grown from seeds (or in this case, bulbs) from a homegrown plant, is bigger, stronger and produces better than new seeds just being introduced to my garden environment (like from purchased seed packets). This works best with open pollinated varieties as opposed to hybrid plants.

Continuing on my garlic growing adventure, I read all about the phenomenon of garlic scapes on Fancyin' the Farmlife, and then I ran out to my garden with my camera and found these odd looking spiral flower stalks on every hardneck variety garlic plant.

Garlic Scapes in the Garden

I had never grown hardnecks before, only the softneck CA White. This was a new, exciting and weird happening for me and my garden. Apparently, only the hardnecks send up scapes as the weather warms in late Spring/early Summer. The scape is a flower stalk (you can see the flower bud in the photo). It is recommended that the gardener prune off the scapes to allow more nutrition to be available for the garlic bulb's growth. So I did that:

Severed Garlic Scapes

The scapes tasted like "green garlic" and were quite good. I understand that they make a lovely pesto sauce. I used them in my normal cooking as I would any garlic. I chopped them up small and put them in soups, stir fries, stews, eggplant parmesan etc.

And they added delicious flavor to my homemade pizza!

Mushroom Pizza

Homemade Pizza! Yum!

Garlic is good! Plant your own this Fall.

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket


Hardware Bob said...

I have used Farmer Jen's suggestion, the supermarket approach to homegrown garlic farming, it worked perfectly in my tiny wine barrel.

Find a nice healthy looking garlic clove in the veggie section of your local supermarket, and follow her instructions, you can't go wrong. The simple approaches are always the best,and the most elegant.

This year I had some very nice garlic cloves added to my collection. Though my method wasn't as cool regarding hanging the entire garlic plant with braids and all, I still ended up with home made garlic added to my ceramic garlic container. And saving some back to start next years harvest, how cool is that?

What a fabulous synopsis on how to grow and cultivate your own home grown garlic. Very nice posting and photos, I really love garlic.

Farmgirl_dk: said...

Yum. Garlic. Mine will be drying up in the barn for another week or two and then I'll braid my softneck varieties (Out of 7 varieties, I only have 2). I found a very informative online site that talks about braiding: http://www.bloomingfieldsfarm.com/garbrdhow.html
It was seeing garlic braids that first got me interested in growing garlic at all! They are so beautiful!!
Your braid looks lovely, Jen!

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Great post, Jen. I, like you, learned about scapes . . . something I'd never heard of before reading Critter Farms post. Your garlic is beautiful, as is the braid. Every kitchen should be so lucky as to be adorned with a garlic braid! I'm gonna have to plant me some garlic when I get back to California. Thanks for the lesson.

frugalmom said...

That was a great post, Jen. Your garlic braid looks so pretty. I bet you look at it often as you walk thru your kitchen.

And your scapes. They looked perfect! Perfectly looped! Arent they tasty little things. Im so glad that you had the opportunity to try them. They add some nice flavor to many types of dishes. Your pizza looks YUM! And to think I just ate dinner.....

Anonymous said...

Am so impressed with your great pictures of garlic....as I love it also. Have always wondered about the braids of garlic.....How long do they last. Have always been tempted to buy one in Gilroy....but thought they would go bad in a short time. Maybe I could grow it in a barrel as Hardware Bob suggested....

High Mountain Gardening (Christa) said...

I grew garlic in this manner this last year. None of it got overly big, but nonetheless, I have been pleased with the results. I like your idea of saving back your own garlic to grow new with. It is probably a wonderful way to produce a variety very well suited to individual climates.

Farmer Jen said...

Hi Bob,
Growing garlic in your wine barrel planter really worked well this past year. Kept it away from the ravenous gophers.

Hi Danni,
Thanks for the braid praise and the link to "how to braid" it. I never really learned how to braid formally. I just started braiding and developed my own technique. So my braids are not as full as the ones we normally see. I can't wait to see all of yours braided! You had quite a good harvest this year.

Hi CA Grammy,
Thanks for the garlic praise. Yes, do grow some garlic. It's one of the easiest crops to grow and so worth it.

Hi Marcee,
I was wondering when someone was going to comment about my pizza! Ever since I posted those photos I have been craving pizza. Thanks so much for your post about the scapes. I learned a lot from you.

Hi Anon,
Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. Yes, garlic will grow well in a container as long as it is deep like wine barrel and gets enough water and sun.

The braids (or any harvested loose garlic heads) will vary in how long they last before either shriveling up or sprouting shoots in the Spring. Some varieties of garlic last longer than others. My CA White lasts several months, well into Winter, after I harvest it in mid Summer.The temperature and humidity affect the garlic braids as well. Here in the CA foothills, our air is relatively dry, low humidity, so that helps to keep the garlic from molding or rotting. Cool and dry (not the fridge or freezer)conditions will help keep your garlic fresh.

Hi Christa,
Thanks for visiting and commenting. I looked at your "hub" article linked to your name and found your beautiful photo of Colorado mountains and meadows. Lovely area.

It's good to know that my garlic growing method works for other gardeners. I really do believe that the plants & their offspring adapt to their particular growing environment from season to season.

Farmer Jen said...

Oops! Sorry Christa. My brain just assumed "Colorado" when I read your article about high mountain gardening in the northern Rockies. I re-read your photo caption to discover that it really was taken in Idaho. My mistake.

Susan @ SGCC said...

I am so impressed with your garlic! It looks just beautiful! My father used to grow garlic in his garden. I wish I had paid more attention. Thanks for all of the great growing tips. I may try this for myself when it cools down a little here.

Farmer Jen said...

Hi Susan,
Thank you for the great compliment! It's easy to grow. Just wait until October or November and plant it in the ground.

Knit Witch said...

OH YUM!!! We love garlic and go through tons of it here. I really want to plant some this fall so that gives me an extra reminder to pick some up and get it planted!!