The Art of Garlic

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Susanville Garlic

“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 IMG-3085that 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.

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Photo by Erin Patterson

Originally from the middle east, 700 species of garlic are now grown around the world.

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Musica garlic

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.

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The Jacob & Churro sheep of Bide A Wee Farm (photo courtesy Bide A Wee Farm)

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 img_3077years’ 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!

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How to be a “Tomato Artist”

IMG_1093It’s tomato time here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  The only advantage I can see of the hot summers we have been having is that the tomatoes love them.  Growing good, delicious, organic tomatoes is an art form and I have gotten good at it- actually a little too good. Frequently I get tomatoes over a pound and they aren’t even the beefsteak variety.  But, there are only so many tomatoes the two of us can consume. We have a freezer full now and they are still coming on. Finding the extra homes other than the compost pile has gotten to be too much effort.  Next year I will have to go down to three plants.  The varieties I grew this year….

  • Sungold-  (cherry tomato- so sweet!)
  • Amish Paste (Prolific and huge)Garden Basket1
  • Brandywine (the best slicer)
  • Black Krim (great flavor)

Really, I can’t take all the credit for the success.  I’m just conducting a series of variables that I have figured out to be a good “Tomato Artist.”  I need to thank the following contributors to my bodacious tomato harvest:

  • Quality heirloom tomato starts
  • My partner for tilling the raised beds,  hauling manure, and installing a drip system
  • The sheep up the road for their great poo
  • The cows and horses down the road for the same
  • Our composted kitchen scraps
  • The earthworms and microbes for decomposing the above
  • The earthworms again for aerating the soil and leaving their casings
  • The farmer that raised the straw that I much with
  • gloves-1252355_1920The rain
  • The sun
  • My own two hands for their labor in planting & tending

 

To be honest, I am feeling burnt out on gardening right now.  There is something so satisfying about growing your own nutritious and tasty food but it is work.  Usually this time every summer I swear I’ll take next summer off.  Knowing me, come spring the lure of fresh tomatoes with basil and dill will lure me back again.

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The Artful Garden

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.

— May Sarton

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It’s hard to imagine that in March my garden was seven big wood boxes full of brown soil, a blank canvas so to speak.  Now it’s a tangle of vines and plants that spill over those same boxes. There are five varieties of bushy tomato plants, at least as tall as me.  The bean teepee, full of romano beans, towers over six feet tall.  There is kale, chard, dill, hot peppers, onions, cucumbers, basil, zucchini, strawberries, beets, cardoons, sunflowers, and marigolds.  Two of the beds are now empty, the garlic being harvested earlier in July.  The peas have died back and the lettuce and arugula have gone to seed.

Planting a garden is a statement of hope, sowing seeds that bear the promise of food and Garden Basket2.2flower.

Planting a garden is a creative act, painting with a palette of plants, considering what varieties will complement the other, then executing the plan with hoe and shovel instead of a brush.

Planting a garden is work.  The soil must be amended, supports constructed, seeds and starts planted.  Then the beds must be mulched, watered, weeded and then harvested.  But then the payoff is the abundance of delicious fresh food it provides for the rest of the summer.

Garden Basket3Planting a garden is an alchemy of human interaction with natural processes.

A garden does not need to be big or complicated.  Even a couple of tomato plants on the porch or herbs on the window sill is better than nothing.   It’s gratifying to tend plants and watch them grow. For children, it’s an especially enriching experience.  To be able to feed oneself and share the bounty with others is powerful.  Gardening is an anchor to the Earth. You don’t get that from a grocery store.

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