This year’s garlic harvest is in. It‘s always a bit of magic when the spade brings to light the seed I planted in the fall. From singular cloves come beautiful heads of garlic ready to enhance my cooking and that of others. Trim the stalks and brush their smooth skins – a ritual I never tire of. Then off to the racks of our root cellar (actually a former darkroom) where they will cure on racks. Typically the harvest will last until mid spring if stored correctly.
We use garlic liberally, often pressing an entire bulb and storing it in a container for use during the week. When I was a young cook I used to follow recipes that called for a clove or two of garlic. I could never taste the difference. If you want some pizzazz to your cuisine, be generous 5 or 6 depending on the size of your cloves. Trust your taste buds.
Over many years none of our acquaintances- even my closest friends have ever complained to me of garlic breath. A good tooth brushing will take care of that!
This morning there was an event in my garden- the garlic scapes were ready for harvest. What is a garlic scape? It is the flowering stalk that appears about 2 weeks or so in June before the garlic is mature enough to dig. It’s always a bit of a miracle to see it mature since I planted it way back in November. We ran out of our garlic about two months ago so it is exciting to know that soon we will have fresh garlic to enjoy.
This is where it gets a bit complicated. There are 2 types of garlic, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlic is the only type that produces scapes. They have, as the name implies, a long hard neck or stem. they have fewer cloves but the cloves are huge. Softneck garlic has soft stems. They are the type you see in braids. Their bulbs can get huge with more cloves but they are not as big as those of the hardneck. Generally, they don’t store for as long as hardneck either. They are impressive and make great gifts
I grow both kinds, Susanville, a softneck variety, and Musica, a hardneck variety. Any type you grow at home puts the tiny store-bought garlic from China to shame in terms of flavor and size. (Why we import that inferior garlic from China is a mystery to me!)
Garlic scapes have a mild garlic flavor. Tonight I will brush them with olive oil and place them on the grill with other vegetables to serve as a side dish. This is my favorite way to serve them. I also sauté them and add them to everything from eggs to stirfry. Look for them now at farmer’s markets and specialty grocery stores for a special treat.
“Stop and smell the garlic. That’s all you have to do” William Shattner”
Lately, while others have been inside baking Christmas cookies these chilly Oregon Days, I have been outside planting garlic for the next year. Some of my friends know me as the “Garlic Queen,” for having developed an obsession for tasty, huge, and beautiful garlic. It’s become an art form for me. Yes, self-expression in growing garlic!
Being a garlic lover, I became very frustrated with the quality of garlic available in the grocery store. It turns out that most of the garlic in the USA comes from China! Surprising since garlic is a fairly easy crop to grow that most of it is imported. Thus some years back I began my education in garlic and garlic cultivation.
Originally from the middle east, 700 species of garlic are now grown around the world.
There are two main types, hardneck & softneck . The hardneck garlic has a hard woody stem and puts out a flowering scape (that is used for also used for culinary purposes). They have fewer cloves than softnecks but are all fairly uniformly large in size. I find they have a longer shelf life than softneck which contradicts other sources. Softneck or “artichoke” style garlic have lots more cloves that get smaller towards the middle. These are the garlics that can be braided. Each variety of garlic all has their unique flavors and storage life.
I grow Susanville (softneck) for their “wow” factor. They often can get quite large and have a pretty purple tinge to them. They make great gifts. For the hardnecks I grow “Musica” for the huge cloves, stronger taste. They also keep a month or so longer.
I have to give credit to the folks who raise Jacob and Churro sheep up the road at Bide A Wee Farm which I affectionately call “Poo Corner.” The composted manure from these furry darlings makes for great garlic as well as anything I grow in the garden. I also invested years ago in decent garlic seed from Hood River Garlic. I save the best heads from the years’ crop for the next. The bigger the clove planted equals the biggest bulb for the next year. Also worthwhile was purchasing the book Growing Great Garlic:The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers by Ron Engeland which is the bible of garlic growing.
The cloves are all tucked away now in their winter bed with a generous covering of straw mulch They will appear again come summer with the turn of the shovel as delightful bulbs- Christmas in July!