Dreaming of garlic

Just last week there was nearly 2 feet of snow sitting in my front yard.  Today, thanks to the warm spring-like weather we’ve been having over the past several days, the snow is nearly gone, and my garden beds are visible once again.  Besides the carrots and brassicas that I’m hoping survived the -25 degree Fahrenheit temperatures we saw earlier this winter (come on early purple sprouting broccoli!), the only other bed that is planted right now is my garlic box.  An entire 4′ x 8′ raised bed of 5 varieties of garlic.  There’s probably 150 cloves of garlic tucked in the ground, blanketed by a thick layer of leaves that not only provide insulation through the winter, but will also keep weeds at bay during the growing season.  If I had the room, I’d grow a hundred varieties of garlic.  But I’d need to buy more land, so for now, that is out of the question.  Alas, I must be content with my 5 varieties (2 more than I grew last year) and add 1 or 2 more each year until my husband complains about my obsession–ahem, problem.  And it won’t be too many more weeks before I see little green sprouts of garlic leaves poking through their winter blanket.  I’m so excited!

What is it about garlic anyway?  It’s not really the differences in flavor between varieties that gets me.  For me it’s more about how many different varieties of beautiful purple, brownish-red, or pink bulbs there are out there.  And all of this variety has been achieved, more or less, by vegetative propagation.  That is, garlic does not reproduce sexually.  You can’t breed it like a tomato variety.  Most garlic can’t produce true seed from it’s flowers.  And some garlic varieties (called softnecks) don’t produce flowers at all. Only the hardnecks produce what’s called a scape that contains the flowers and/or small little bulbils, which are like tiny little garlic cloves that can produce a full-sized bulb if given a few years in the ground.  If you don’t believe that garlic can be beautiful, check out my photos.  This is no ordinary grocery store garlic, with its white bulb wrappers and white cloves.  These varieties show a range of purple coloration that makes me smile whenever I peel my garlic in preparation for cooking.

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This variety is called Susanville.  It is a softneck garlic, known as an artichoke type, with gorgeous purple cloves.  I kind of like the fact that the bulb wrappers are mostly white.  It’s like a little surprise when you begin breaking apart the bulb and discover all the purple cloves waiting inside.  Softneck garlics have a very long storage life.  I harvested this garlic last July and I still have several bulbs hanging in my basement that are still in great shape.  The only disappointment with this variety was the small bulb size for a lot of my crop, but this isn’t too unusual for the first year of planting garlic.  It usually takes 1 or 2 seasons for garlic to acclimate to your particular climate, especially if you purchased bulbs from a grower whose climate is different than your own.  I planted the largest cloves last fall, though, and I am hopeful for a good crop this summer.

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This next variety is called Duganski.  I love the name, by the way.  It is a hardneck variety known as a marbled purple stripe.  You can see the marbling on the cloves–beautiful, huh?  Some of my cloves had really deep purple coloring, as seen here:

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I was really pleased with my harvest of this variety.  It had nice large bulbs which produced nice sized cloves.  I think this is going to be one of my favorites.  Hardneck varieties don’t store well, though, a few months tops.  I had a few bulbs still in the basement last week that had gone bad.  I think the last time I used this particular variety for cooking was in January, and even then only some of the cloves were still usable.  Under good storage conditions, I’d say you could keep this one around 4-5 months no problem.  One way to make it last longer?  Dry it and grind it up as garlic powder!

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The final variety I grew last year is Spanish Roja, a hardneck rocambole type.  Supposedly this is THE garlic variety.  It has won the title of “best-tasting garlic” by many garlic connoisseurs.  I was a little disappointed in my harvest last year.  The bulbs weren’t as big as I’d hoped they would be, so I hope it’s just adapting to my climate and this year will produce large bulbs.  The clove coloring was not as spectacular as some photos I’ve seen, so again, hopeful for a good year this year.  The storage life of this variety was even shorter than that of Duganski–by Thanksgiving it had seen better days.  This fall, I’ll be making a lot of garlic powder with this variety.

Two new varieties I’ve added to the garden this year are Turkish Giant (the cloves I planted were HUGE) and Music.  It almost kills me knowing that I have to wait until late June or July before I can see how my crop this year turns out.  Until then, I’ll be dreaming about what new varieties I want to add to the garden next year.

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