Apparently I’m the last to do anything, ever, always. Like my last minute plans to grow garlic. While everyone is planting their bulbs in the fall, I’m spending my Christmas and New Year’s holiday mucking around in the rain planting rows of belatedly purchased bulbs. I started out in the fall thinking, eh, I will just do garlic next year. Then I had this mental image of myself eating a mountain of home grown garlic, and then I rushed out to buy a bazillion bulbs (roughly a dozen in Gingi-speak).
It’s not entirely my fault that I’ve got a late crop planted. I was under the impression that garlic simply MUST be in the ground early fall and any later would result in a sterile crop. Apparently garlic is a hardy superstar that can be planted into late winter in the Central Valley. The realization of this fact, coupled with the fact that I am a garlic eating fiend (I will roast a whole head of garlic and eat the whole frikkin thing like its candy) made me think planting a row.. or two.. or three.. might not be a bad idea.
Also, I hear it’s hard to kill. Which is awesome for me, since my garden last year had a 50% failure rate. (Though in my defense, it was the neighborhood vermin that sheared off all my leafy greens before they had a chance to be people food.)
While I’ve always been a fan of the flavor and medicinal / nutritional properties of garlic, I have only recently been made aware of the fascinating history and complexity of garlic on a botanical level. Garlic is a plant that is prehistoric, and the more you study its composition and qualities, it’s not difficult to imagine this plant growing at the dawn of time.
Each bulb is a clone of some fantastically old mother bulb that has grown, and regrown, and multiplied its original cells for millennia. While most plant seeds are like temporary resting places for plant DNA, bulbs like garlic are even more spectacular. They don’t pass on their ancient memories, they ARE their ancient memories! To quote Ron Engeland, There are awesome traces of human history bundled beneath the bulb wrappers, each wrapper like a giant step through time toward the very origins of cultivated food plants on our planet.
Garlic has a memory much like wine grapes, and fine garlic – like fine wine – is an art.
Working at the Farmers Market, I look at these skilled, passionate farmers who have dedicated their lives to raising fine foods, and I feel like embarking on a project like growing heirloom and gourmet garlic is beyond me. I’m not a trained botanist or food scientist. I’m not a farmer and I am barely a gardener in that I have something vaguely resembling a garden in my back yard. But it was ordinary people that cultivated garlic in the wild and eventually evolved it into its modern condition.. so perhaps it’s fitting that a beginner and an amateur like me should attempt to tackle the phenomenon of great garlic? (I can doooo eeet!!!)
When not giving myself pep talks and trolling for inspirational garden quotes on Pinterest, I have received a lot of encouragement, support and information from Kyle at KMK Organic Farm in Kingsburg, California. Kyle sells at our Saturday morning Visalia Farmers Market, and even though his booth is buzzing with crowds, he always takes the time to answer my questions – no matter how silly! – and lend advice and know-how for gardening and backyard farming.
There is very little written about the cultivation of garlic, specifically concerning the regional differences in climate, soil, and latitude, so speaking to a local organic farmer who plants acres of organic garlic varieties in the Central Valley is a huge blessing. Kyle also stocked me up with some of his organic California Early White softneck garlic!
In addition to the California Early from KMK Farm, I also purchased some heirloom organic (both hardneck and softneck) garlic from Filaree Farms in Washington State. The varieties I’ve started with this year include: Purple Glazer, Georgian Crystal, French Mild and Red Toch.
While I am blessed to have some great local resources and support in my gardening endeavors, I know full well that hands on experience in the garden is still the best way to gather knowledge. Here’s what I’ve gone in my garlic garden so far:
– I tilled the raised beds where I planned to plant my garlic, and worked in some fresh organic hummus and compost into the top 4 inches of soil.
– I separated the cloves from the bulb heads, and then planted the cloves in rows by type, 1 inch into the soil and spaced 6 inches apart.
– I didn’t lay down a mulch cover since the danger of frost isn’t a threat in the Central Valley.
– About a week after my garlic was snugly planted, I started noticing bright green sprouts working out of the ground. My dog and cat have both taken to digging up portions of my garlic beds, and even being uncovered and replanted numerous times, all of the cloves are still growing, letting out long tendrils of white roots, and thriving.
So now… we wait! I’ll keep you guys posted on my garlic beds come spring and summer!