Garlic: A Plant to Love
You'll never do grocery garlic again.
Jupiter Images/Ross Durant
In the snowy high country of the Rocky Mountains, it seems a miracle each year when the slender green shoots of garlic emerge from the nearly frozen ground.
Along with the crocus, garlic pushing its way out of the cold earth is a sure sign that spring is here, even if we have yet to endure a few late snowstorms (which, by the way, garlic doesn’t seem to mind a bit).
Of all the things to grow in your garden, garlic is perhaps one of the most profoundly satisfying, and it is one of the crops with the longest growing season around. In most North American climates, it takes a full nine months to grow a good garlic crop – about the same amount of time it takes for a human to grow a baby. We’re talking serious dedication here.
Garlic is one of few crops that gardeners and farmers plant in the autumn – after the pumpkins have been pulled from the field, after the corn is nothing but dry stalk, after the tomatoes are all turned to sauce.
Only then, when the nights are crisp and the days are getting short, do you pull out your dibble, punch little holes in the ground, drop little cloves of garlic into their burrows (pointy-end up) and tuck them into bed with a little soil.
And then, you rest – and hope the snow falls. Garlic loves nothing more than a blanket.
Garlic goes gourmet
The first thing you need to know about growing garlic is also the reason why you should grow it: Not all garlic is created equal. Although it’s a common belief that each bulb of garlic is just like any other bulb of garlic, this belief is false, even bordering blasphemy for the passionate garlic grower. Those of us who grow a lot of garlic know there is good garlic, and hot garlic, and mellow garlic, garlic that is good raw, and garlic that will rot your stomach if you dare to eat it raw. And, yes, there is even bland garlic. Really.
The garlic you get in the grocery store, for most of the year, is a basic silverskin or artichoke – a softneck garlic, likely grown along the coast in California or Oregon. These varieties – usually California Early or California Late – keep well and are easy to grow.
And yes, this is all good stuff – there’s no such thing as “bad” garlic. But here at our farm, we think of that garlic as, well, grocery garlic. There’s a difference.
A whole world of garlic flavors is out there for growers who decide to try something different – rocamboles and porcelains, purple stripes and turbans. You can grow garlic from China, from Japan, from the Czech Republic, from Italy. Our favorites include Chesnok Red (also known as Shvelisi), Cichi, German Extra Hardy and our own local heirloom, a rocambole similar to the famed gourmet garlic, Spanish Roja.
If all that is too confusing for you, here’s what you really need to know in order to grow garlic.
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