Thursday, July 12, 2018
Growing garlic has been an obsession here for more than two decades. In our younger days we were able to eat garlic in quantity. Freshly minced cloves lightly sauteed in olive oil then spread on French Peasant Bread under a generous coating of Parmesan cheese was a favorite way to eat our garlic. Now that is only a pleasant memory. There is no rational explanation for why we continue to plant 720 cloves each fall.
A recently departed friend gave us a few of cloves from her garden for this garlic. We named it Helen's and will always have it growing here. This year we planted fifty cloves but harvested only forty-one. Recalling that late winter was bitter here, we were pleased that any of these plants grew following their hard freeze after several warm March days.
When to harvest has always been a troublesome question. In the book Growing Great Garlic, Ron Engleman advocates harvest when only two or three leaves are still green. His experience with garlic is limited to the West Coast. When I followed his advise my garlic cloves were filled with mold. He also stated that it was impossible to grow garlic in New York State because of our summer weather patterns. Alabama boomers are common here in July when hot humid days frequently feature severe thunderstorms. That excessive moisture falling on plants with mostly dead leaves is a guaranteed problem. Most of my plants still carry many green leaves at harvest. These green leaves maintain a water tight seal at ground level avoiding the growth of mold. My bulbs are somewhat smaller but they remain free of disease.
Helen's garlic was the first harvested and has undergone two steps toward cured bulbs. Elevated on a wire garden cage, the root mass was cut off the day after harvest. The next day, the lowest solid green leaf is pulled clear removing all traces of garden soil. Next the stems will be shortened so that the bulbs can hang downward instead of lying on top of the cage. With that change in orientation much more garlic can cure on this cage. As the cure nears completion several purple stripes will appear on the outer wrappers growing in the same line as the stalks.