My wife loves garlic. More than she loves me? It’s an open question. Nearly everything she cooks starts with a healthy amount of onions and head of garlic. Why not a clove of garlic? Might as well just sprinkle on a little garlic powder!
As the garden (“the farm” as friends call it) began to expand out back garlic became one of the plants of choice. My wife started by just tossing some grocery store garlic into one of our raised beds; it grew fairly well but…no scapes! Turns out there’s a difference between hard neck and soft neck garlic…and the soft neck variety doesn’t produce scapes. Good to know.
A few of our earliest, mostly succesful, attempts at growing garlic:
Realizing that for us “growing what we eat” would mean focusing on tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and garlic along with the peaches, apples, grapes, and lettuce we were cultivating, we moved the garlic from some small beds to a 12′ x 3′ bed running along the area our fruit trees occupy: The Orchard. After planting in late fall, green stalks began to pop through the snow and looked healthy and eager all winter. By early summer we had all the scapes we could eat. We ate them tossed into pasta, turned into a pesto sauce, and mixed into butter, or just toasted all by themselves. In late summer we harvested 50 odd heads of Spanish red, and 60 odd heads of German white.
For our first big planting we ordered our seed garlic from Possum Hill Farm in Lakeville, CT. It’s owned by my wife’s uncle, and her cousin is in charge of the garlic. We were thrilled with the results; pounds of garlic from one bed in the garden. We used it all up, so we ordered more seed and planted again that fall in the same bed. Possum Hill had only German white to plant last year so we went with that. It grew well but wasn’t quite as vibrant. Perhaps two years in the same bed was too much, but we got 80 or so heads of garlic and once again had scapes in the early season.
We knew that we could dedicate our entire backyard to garlic, however, and it still wouldn’t be sufficient for our needs. As it happens, our friends at Copper Hill Farm had some land they weren’t using, quite a bit of land in fact, certainly more than we could use; so we bought 50 pounds of seed garlic from Possum Hill, and spent a day or so “popping” the heads into cloves to plant. I even built a “dibbler”: kind of a thing to make the evenly spaced holes to pop the cloves into.
The seed garlic:
My wife and I worked together one afternoon; I raked over the soil Greg, the owner of Copper Hill, had tilled for us and I dibbled the holes. My wife planted and covered each clove. We got less than half of the field planted on that first afternoon. We had planned out the prior weekend to spend it together, along with LuLu, planting. But nature had not cooperated: it had rained furiously and the field was too wet. The autumn had also gone from too warm to a bit on the cold side in a flash. We had other pressing issues and so Elizabeth, my wife, had to come back later in the week on her own and plant the rest of the field. When she noticed that there was another patch of land which Greg had tilled but which we hadn’t intended on using, and that we still had plenty of “popped” garlic we asked if we could plant there. Greg said yes, of course, and we went back one last day to plant a bit more and to mulch.
We lost track of exactly how many seeds we planted. With any luck we’ll have enough to supply our own needs, a few hundred heads to the Copper Hill Farm Store, and to reserve as seed for next year. My wife used two different techniques for spacing in the two separate areas we planted in order to see which will work best for weeding and harvesting.
As far as what to grow where the garlic had been, we’re thinking Bolivian peppers. Amazing little red peppers that look like Christmas lights and are comparable to a very spicy jalapeño on the Scoville scale. Here in New England we’ve seen that if you bring the plant inside the purple peppers turn yellow, orange, and red just in time for Christmas. They might make for some really spicy holiday gifts.
Thinking about the garden, and writing this little post in fact, have raised my spirits a bit. We have space for one more fruit tree, we’re making room for a few more grape vines, and the asparagus bed will be in year two. It’s a mess right now, but I can’t wait to get out there in the spring and set to the work of bringing it back to life.