Garlic: Seasonal syncopation
I shared lab space during my graduate career with several Korean students. One of them told me that she was advised to stop eating garlic when she came to the US, because Americans hate garlic. Whoever told her this had confused cause and effect. Most of us hate garlic breath, not garlic. I love garlic. It’s fun to grow, good to eat and keeps vampires away. Planting it a bit before halloween seems appropriate then.
Around Europeans ruined two continents day we allium lovers of the northeast tuck our garlic in. I plant mine staggered throughout a four foot wide bed so that each one gets about seven inches in every direction. They do fine that way and as a result I get a whole lot of garlic out of fifty square feet. I blanket it with a thick mulch of what’s handy: leaves. Straw would be better but for me requires money and schlepping. I hate both. A few years back I split a bed and tucked half in under pine needles and the other under maple leaves. The plants under the maple grew much better. Not exactly a double blinded randomized-block trial, but I stick to leaves now.
I harvested last year’s crop at the beginning of July. Garlic is a constant part of my garden: I only spend about two months of the year with no garlic growing. It’s out of step with the rest of my crops: I plant at harvest time and harvest in the middle of growth season. It’s syncopated with the season’s beat.
I eat at least part of a clove of garlic everyday. That doesn’t make it a staple like rice or wheat, but it puts it up there with onions as an important part of the food I eat.
Am I self-sufficient with garlic? Close, but I’ve made some choices in varieties that hurt storage potential. The standard grocery store garlics are silver skins. They have a long shelf life, but also tend to have lots of little cloves inside each bulb. I like the stiffneck garlics that have big cloves and great taste, sadly they don’t last as long in storage. This year I’ve gotten two of the “softneck” silverskin varieties in hopes of prolonging my eating. In an earlier column I mentioned that last year’s crop of garlic had the word “red” in them or referred to the Soviets in some way (i.e. Leningrad). I’ve chosen varieties for my new planting that evoke military units: Korean Mountain (division), Uzbhek Turban (grenadiers), Idaho Silver (brigade), German Stiffneck, Polish White (Cavaliers). The parenthetical words are added for emphasis.
I received my armed division of garlic cloves from a company somewhere west of Albany. My understanding is that there are a lot of red states out there and people tend to be armed, that’s probably why the garlic got named this way. Perhaps they believe if the garlic has terrifying names, the pests, and vampires, will stay away. We’ll just see about that won’t we?