My great-grandmother Corlie, first proprietess of Garland Nursery credited her long life (91 years) to Listerine, honey and garlic. Personally, I think it was good pioneer stock, plenty of activity, healthy eating, and the fact that as a woman she didn’t operate heavy machinery. Her husband, William, died in a farming accident. At any rate, when garlic planting time rolls around, I remember and celebrate her memory. Corlie was one of many women that cast a long shadow and shaped who I became. She died when I was 4, so it wasn’t a personal relationship that influenced me. Rather, it was the respect and honor that others gave her that made her appear larger than life and one to be emulated. So, great-grandmother Corlie, this blog is dedicated to you.
Garlic is a staple in my house. I use it in almost every dish I prepare. The only thing I use more of, in terms of quantity, is another member of the Allium family, the onion. I have garlic powder, garlic salt, minced/roasted garlic in oil, and heads of garlic. I prefer fresh garlic. If I’m in a hurry I will use minced garlic. The powder is so old, I probably should throw it out, but every now and again I run into a recipe that calls for garlic powder, so I keep it around. As far as the garlic salt, I really need to toss that. If I have garlic powder and I have salt, why do I need garlic salt?
This past weekend, we brought back our Garden to Table (G2T) class that had been on vacation through the summer. We celebrated, discussed and tasted: Garlic, nuts, and hops. I figured that it would be a good opportunity to taste test the different varieties of garlic that we sell. And the best way to get to enjoy that pure flavor is to roast the garlic. Roasting creates a buttery texture and lets you enjoy the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in varieties without the sharp flavor of raw garlic. Unfortunately, our garlic shipment 3 weeks later than and 2013 and 1 week later even than I expected. So, we didn’t get to sample all 9 varieties that we sell. But thanks to the farmer’s market and 2 of our smaller suppliers of garlic, I was able to roast and sample 5 different varieties. I had only roasted garlic 1 other time. It is so amazingly simple, I’m surprised I don’t do it more often. The basic steps are: 1. Remove a lot of the skin. 2. Cut off the tops of the cloves. 3. Place on aluminum foil. 4. Pour olive oil over the head. 5. Seal up the foil. 6. Place on a baking tray and bake at 425 deg for 35-45 minutes. The larger the head, the longer it takes. The elephant garlic took a full 45 minutes.
I was unprepared for how much people enjoyed it. I will admit that if even one person compliments me on my cooking that it goes to my head. So it wasn’t like I had 100 people raving about the roasted garlic. It was probably 4 that mentioned how wonderful it was. Like I said, it was easy, so it wasn’t my cooking skills that made it delicious. It simply was delicious and I didn’t screw it up. What that tells me is that there are many people out there that enjoy encountering something new, prepared simply, with fresh ingredients. We sampled the roasted garlic on crackers, although sourdough bread pieces would be lovely as well.
We sampled the following varieties: Elephant, German Red (hardneck), Spanish Roja (hardneck), Inchelium Red (softneck) and Shep’s EZ Peel (softneck). The staff got to sample German Porcelain, a hardneck variety that we ordered but were cancelled on. In general, hardneck varieties are stronger flavored but do not have as long of a storage life (4-6 months). Softneck varieties are the ones you see more commonly in the stores. They have a nice but milder flavor but a longer storage life (6-9 months). They also are the kind used for braiding. Elephant garlic is actually more closely related to leeks than garlic. It is extremely mild and sweet. My favorite was Spanish Roja, followed by Inchelium Red and then German Red. Although I used to eat more Elephant garlic, I am no longer a fan. The Shep’s EZ Peel was almost as large as the Elephant garlic and I wonder if I roasted it long enough. Many people did enjoy it, because we sold a lot of it that day.
When I buy garlic, I rarely know what variety I am purchasing. Grocery stores don’t list a variety. Shopping at the Wednesday farmer’s market in Corvallis, I had to ask most vendors what variety of garlic they were selling. There were a few vendors that labeled the variety. If you are looking for a specific flavor profile, you probably need to be growing your own garlic. Growing garlic isn’t difficult. However, it is not a quick crop so it requires some dedicated space. You plant in Sept-October and you harvest in July or August. I have 2 small raised beds. I do not have enough space to grow the amount of garlic that I need to supply my cooking for a whole year and have other home-grown, fresh vegetables to eat. I decided I would grow the other stuff and buy the garlic. But now that I have tasted the roasted garlic again, I’m thinking I really need to lease some land-or take over a little plot at the nursery to raise some garlic. I need to space the cloves 4 inches apart in rows that are 8 inches apart. From each clove, you harvest a head of garlic. If I want to harvest 36 heads (that’s 3 heads to cook per month), I’m going to need a space 2 feet wide by 4’+ long. Okay, that’s really not that much space. But it’s going to be occupied for 10 months of the year. And you’re probably going to rotate that planting space every 2-3 years. I might be able to make that happen. Especially if I install a couple of raised beds at the nursery. There’s a lot of property. It has to be sunny. And I can’t pick any location that can be used to grow pumpkins! Maybe I can talk my husband into taking out the front lawn?
Wherever I decide to place my garlic growing enterprise, this is what I’ll need: Well-drained, fertile soil. A typical garden soil would be great. However, most of us have compacted clay soil. If we don’t have a dedicated garden spot with well-amended soil, we’re going to have to work in a lot of compost to get the bed ready before we plant. The location of the planting should be in full sun, as much sun as possible. The area needs to be weed free initially and kept weed free. There needs to be a water source, as garlic needs to be watered regularly when the plants are growing green leaves.
You break up the head of garlic into individual cloves. Plant the cloves 1-2″ deep with the root side down. Make a note of that when you break out the cloves. It’s far easier to see which is the root side when you’re looking at the whole head as opposed to just the clove. I’ve mentioned planting distance above. As the garlic begins to grow in the spring, it should be moderately fertilized. Use a higher nitrogen fertilizer, organic preferred. It could be a liquid feed, if desired. If you use a liquid fertilizer, apply every 10 days to 2 weeks apart. An organic meal fertilizer could be applied less often. When the foliage stops growing, you stop fertilizing and ease back on the watering. Flower stalks emerge in early June and need to be removed.
Once the leaves begin to brown and 2/3 of the leaves are brown, it is time to harvest the garlic. If you loosen the soil around the roots with a spading fork, you should be able to pull up the garlic by hand. Tie the leaves or stalks in loose bundles and hand under a covered area. Garlic stores longer if cured with stalks and leaves attached. Good air circulation is essential. Curing takes 2-3 weeks and as long as 2 months depending on the humidity and air circulation. Once curing is complete, trim the roots. If storing garlic in sacks, cut the stalks off 1/2 inch above the bulb and gently clean the bulb with a soft bristle brush. Avoid stripping off the papery skin. Hang garlic in netted sacks for air circulation on all sides. Perfect storing conditions are at room temperature.
Okay, I want you to report back to me. Let me know if you tried growing garlic for the first time this year and if you were happy with the result. Let me know if you bought different varieties of garlic at the farmer’s market and roasted them and established a favorite variety. I want to know which one you liked the best. Finally, if you love garlic but you would rather let someone else grow it, let me know. I’d love to hear why you love garlic and why you choose not to grow it. Is it a space issue? Time? What? I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, Happy Gardening.