‘Tis the season of Garlic Scapes

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

My garlic bed- back right

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.

Garlic Scapes

Amid the crossing linear foliage

I spot them

heads nodding

shyly on slim necks

stems curving

with gestures of

graceful  ballerinas

First harvest

Artful are these scapes bearing

buds like slender crane’s bills swaddling

garlic flowers

unlikely harbingers of the fiery bulbs

maturing beneath the soil

waiting for my shovel to bring them

to the light of day

to the warmth of my kitchen

to dance in the food at my table

Susanville garlic

For more about my garlic hobby see my post The Art of Growing Garlic

On Bringing Nature Home

My first purchase of native plants

In the 28 years I’ve lived in my home I’ve watched the surrounding hills logged acre by acre making way to vineyard land. I used to live out in the country.  Now I say I live in the “wine country” to add a reference point to the location.  To some this is no big deal, but for me losing our forests is a tragic loss of shady walks, natural habitat, and carbon storage.  We shame the loss of tropical rainforests but turn a blind eye to the logging of our own temperate forests.

When this happens nothing is left for wildlife, no corridors for migrating birds for deer, or any of our native species to survive on.  Where do all the creatures go that made those forests home?  Most die.  It’s all for human profit now.  This collateral damage is met with barely a shrug. Add to that the recent catastrophic wildfires in Oregon have left thousands of acres of forest graveyards.  I was heartsick on a recent camping trip to the Cascade Range where we drove through miles of blackened mountains, burnt towns, and majestic forests turned to black matchsticks.  This was once verdant scenery.  Rampant salvage logging is only making matters worse for long-term recovery.

I have written letters to editors, congresspeople, and blogged about the environmental issues at hand but reciprocity to nature is not a concept our culture embraces.  It’s about profit.  There is a total disconnect in our relationship to the earth and the long-term consequences of our consumerism.  We take without giving back and that will be our ultimate demise.  I’ve realized through all this the only real power we have is through our actions and not those of governments or corporations.  This includes our own piece of ground.

So in an act of defiance, I am bringing nature home to my one little acre in Oregon.  I am starting the slow process to convert my land into a tiny nature sanctuary by planting native plants and creating a wildlife friendly habitat.  Until recently I landscaped my yard the way everybody does-by what would look nice.  That meant planting common cultivars from Asia without a thought to what nutrition and cover they would provide to native species including pollinators, butterflies, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

My newly planted barrel

Will this make a difference?  Well to me it does! To future furred and feathered visitors it will, and if enough other homeowners join in it will make a huge difference.  All I know is that when we recently planted a big leaf maple in our yard and planted my overgrown planter barrel by the porch entrance with milkweed, and native wildflowers I felt empowered.  If you would like to join me on my radical gardening journey, tune into my other blog, One Sweet Earth where I will be sharing my process bit by bit.

A big leaf maple finds a home in my yard

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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