if you’re looking for something to grow in the garden that doesn’t take a lot of work and has boundless benefits, consider garlic. we first grew the delectable bulb in our new york community garden, planting it in the spring to harvest in the fall. we had to switch that time interval for our texas garden, planting in fall to harvest in spring.
we first tried growing garlic that was sent as a home & garden warming gift from our friend lynn. as lovely as the package was, and savory as the un-planted cloves tasted, they were not successful in our growing conditions. we attributed our failure to harvest any garlic that year in planting a variety of hard-necked garlic ill suited to hot & humid southerly climes. determined to try again, i searched for a purveyor of garlic with a provenance proven to perform. i forget how i stumbled upon them, but i placed a rather ambitious order with gourmet garlic gardens. when the box arrived from bangs, texas with several nicely wrapped packages of garlic, it was accompanied by a hand written thank you note from bob.
i was eager to get planting, but mr. grwhryrpltd thought i was crazy, wondering where the heck we’d plant it all. considering we prepared a bed along a blank fence line earlier that spring, we had plenty of room.
according to the brazos valley vegetable planting guide, garlic is best fall planted between august 10 and october 20. since it was already october 22, i quickly went to work separating & peeling the cloves, soaking them overnight in a mixture of water and baking soda as bob recommended to neutralize fungi. i placed each variety in its own labeled mason jar. the next day, i drained the water and quickly soaked the cloves in a second bath of rubbing alcohol, also as recommended, to kill any remaining pathogens.
i admit, we had a lot of cloves to plant. to take advantage of the available garden space, i utilized some handy rulers to evenly space each clove approximately 6″ apart. to keep track of each planted variety, i labeled each row with a wood coffee stirrer. seeing this wasn’t the most durable solution, i scavenged larger strips of wood from the garage, wrote their names in pencil (which is longer lasting than any pen i’ve ever used), and spray painted their tips orange, just for fun.
then we waited for the cloves to grow over winter, mature into spring and usher in summer.
look at the size of those bulbs!
after all the harvest-ready garlic was gently forked from the ground, it was transported to the garage to hang and dry. each variety was separated into groups of four to six bulbs, lassoed with twine, and properly labeled.
while the garage is out of the elements, it can get pretty hot in there due to its southern exposure. garlic prefers to dry in a cool, dark environment. i’m hoping the humidity and light that penetrates through the garage door’s clerestory windows (ha, i wish) doesn’t prove to be problematic. it’s the only space we’ve got for such an operation.
while awaiting the second round of garlic to mature, i finally noticed some scape production. at this point in time (early june) i doubted if any of the garlic varieties would send up scapes. some do and some don’t. the first to show signs was Metechi, a marbled, purple-stripe garlic.
scapes are the flowering structure of garlic, similar to a chive, but better. if picked early enough, they’re particularly tasty to chop into whatever you’re cooking for dinner. by picking it you’ll save the garlic bulb from losing some heft, as any flower head left to mature converts its stored energy into seed production. however, if you let a scape mature just a wee bit longer, you’ll start to see bulbils form, which are another tasty addition to the skillet, similar to a mild onion. mmm… scape bulbils… and, if left to fully mature, the bulbils turn into mini cloves that you can plant and eventually harvest a bulb from, if given a few years to remain in the ground. full circle.
a week or so later, the next batch of garlic was ready to harvest:
we had two more harvests, but i’ll spare you those close-ups. after the garlic dried for a couple of weeks, it was time to clean (some of) it. this involved brushing off the dried soil, trimming the roots and stem, and removing the outermost leaf layer – purely for aesthetic reasons. by now the garage smelled quite savory given the steamy, 100 degree afternoons. not quite like passing over the forcefield of peppermint threshold at the celestial seasonings tea factory, but definitely a close second (if you don’t know what i’m talking about, go to boulder, colorado to find out. it’s worth it).
i bet you’re practically tasting the pungency by now, aren’t you…? to say that the flavor of a sliver of this bulb lasted until morning is an understatement… wahoo! fresh garlic packs a punch! now i know why my friend barb was so dedicated to growing it in her upstate ny garden. i may have to take her lead and host a garlic festival, texas style, to celebrate the garlickiness with friends. in the meantime, here’s my favorite hummus recipe:
puree 2 cups chick peas, 1/4 cup bean liquid, 1/4 cup lemon juice (better yet, key-lime juice), 4 cloves minced garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons tahini & 2 tablespoons olive oil in a food processor. blend until light and fluffy. mix in minced garlic scapes if you want an extra garlicy flavor and pretty green bits in your hummus. serve with chips, crackers, or garden fresh veggies. bon appetit!