Monday, November 22, 2010

Beach Farm: Week 16 or 120 Days or 240 Days 'Til Garlic

I met Mimi in the 36th St. subway station. I had forgotten my metrocard, so we needed meet through the iron bars and I wondered if that was the only time garlic had been passed through them. The garlic looked so good, it almost seemed a shame to plant it -eat it, look at it, but don't bury it! Mimi jumped back on the train, and I headed for my van, grabbing a cup of coffee for the trip. I convinced myself that the cold, the wind, required coffee-warmed preparation. Once I left the comfort of the van for the field, I wasn't all that cold, but the coffee sure was.

The whole garden -small, bare, brown. I am now thinking, probably too late, that I should have planted more greens. Maybe another attempt at spinach in the old tomato rows?

Mimi's hardneck garlic. 

Garlic, Allium sativum, is divided into two subspecies -the hardnecks, A. sativum ophioscorodon, and the softnecks, A. sativum sativum. These two subspecies have hundreds of cultivars, all of which have descended from A. sativum in its native range -the Caucasus Mountains. In fact, many of the varieties now available were locked behind the "iron curtain" of the Soviet Union until the late 1980s, when the Soviets granted the USDA permission to collect garlic.

Hardneck vareties like Rocambole, Porcelain, the Purple Stripe(s), and the weaker hardnecks like Asiatic, Turban, and Creole generally have hard central stems, less, but larger cloves, and thin papery skins.  Because of the thin skin, these tend to have a shorter storage life, say 5 to 6 months, but are also much easier to peel. Hardneck varieties also have distinctive scape shapes which can be useful for identifying your garlic in the field.

Artichoke and Silverskin varieties belong to the softneck subspecies, A. sativum sativum. These have more cloves, up to 20, and, as the name gives away, a soft stem which makes them the garlic for braiding. The cloves have more paper on them, which helps them store for a longer time than the hardnecks, but this extra paper makes peeling trickier. Softnecks are said to be easier to grow, which, along with the quantity of cloves and long storage life, make these the choice grocery store garlic we've been eating all these years.

Amongst the two subspecies, and the several varieties, there are dozens upon dozens of cultivars with specific traits for growing, storing, and eating. Garlic is not the monolithic bulb I was once familiar with. The last time I grew garlic was 13 years ago in southern NM. I simply bought a few bulbs from the grocery store and plopped them in. Familiar with planting flower bulbs, when to plant was easy enough, but I was confused about harvest time in that desert climate. Thanks to our temperate climate and the internet, it was easy enough to figure out that I'll be pulling garlic around the fourth of July. 

While we are sure these bulbs are Allium sativum ophioscorodon, we cannot be sure of the variety. Each bulb had 4 large cloves, light coloring, and medium heat which leads me to believe that they are a 'German' cultivar of a Porcelain (based on my googling about). Apparently these will have a 'snakes nest' of scapes if they are, in fact, Porcelain -spring time will help solve some of the mystery. The only other possible choice is the variety Rocambole, which also have distinctive double loop scapes in spring. 

The newly planted garlic mound, planted in the recently cleared hot pepper bed. Apparently garlic can be tricky to grow, depending on the variety, the local climate -like all plants. Many are proponents of mulch, of which I had none and so my garlic goes without. The hardnecks require a good hard cold spell, but don't much care for freeze and thaw. They like watering, but well-drained (really, what doesn't?), but then stop watering for the last month or so. Okay, it's useful to know these things, but experience is the best teacher, next to failure, and one way or the other, we'll have something to talk about next July.


  1. Glad you like the garlic! I can't wait for the scapes in the spring!

  2. Just to be sure... but based on the picture, it looks like you planted the full garlic bulb. I thought you were supposed to take the individual cloves apart and plant those? I could be wrong.

  3. Hi Christina,

    You are!

    I'm not sure what photo you're looking at, but I assume it's the last one. I just stuck the stems in for fun after I broke up the cloves and planted each around 6 inches apart -8 up, 3 across.

  4. In fact, if you look closely, those are the root 'caps,' so they're upside down.


If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...