365 Days of Garlic from the GardenJune 19, 2010
I can now say that we have successfully made it a full year without buying garlic by growing our own. My spring garlic scapes began emerging a couple of weeks ago, just as I was finishing off the last shriveling, browning soft neck cloves stored in the cellar. In the fall of 2008 I planted a selection of hardneck seed garlic into large, movable nursery tubs used in the past for trees and large shrubs. In the spring of 2009 — around Solstice — I began harvesting garlic scapes for cooking. That’s when I stopped buying garlic at the farmer’s marke, let alone at the grocery store. Later in summer, I began harvesting, curing and braiding the bulbs themselves, which we have been using until just this week — timed perfectly to the arrival of this year’s scapes! Our next goal is to see if this year’s harvest can take us through yet another 365 days without needing to buy more garlic for the kitchen.
Because garlic grows for almost 9 months before being harvested and cured and because I don’t have a large farm to work with, I chose to grow it in containers instead of in the ground. Using this method, I am still able to produce enough garlic to feed to us through the winter. And we eat a lot of garlic! Growing this way, I may harvest slightly smaller cloves since they are packed into the containers, but I still reap a good sized harvest. Too, by using containers, I can move the the garlic around the garden to capture ideal sun, which travels the horizon much differently in the dead of winter than in the brilliance of late spring. And, I can easily protect the spring plants from rot-inducing rain and cold by rigging up temporary hoop houses. Too, garlic can benefit from reduced watering as the bulbs begin to cure. By keeping it in pots by itself rather than mixed into my beds with other plants still begging for supplemental summer water, I can control the needs of both the thirsty crops and the curing garlic by segregating my stinking rose into containers.
Despite appreciating the long-storing capacity of soft neck garlics and how easy they are to braid, I’ve found they’re more difficult to grow successfully than hard necks. Plus, they don’t offer up delicious scapes in spring, and I find them tough to peel. In Fall of 2009, I planted a mixed selection of garlic in tubs again. I skipped the elephant garlic, which simply rotted out in my 2009 crop. And, I did try one variety of soft neck. Most of that has rotted as well. To be fair, it’s been a really cold and wet spring in Seattle in 2010. However, the soft necks were the first to have problems in my current crop. Yet, the hard necks continue to do great.
So what’s the difference between a hard neck and soft neck garlic?
Hard necks are the varieties that have a hard central shoot around which the cloves grow. This hard central shoot is the stalk on which the flower attempts to form. In spring, the top portion of this immature flower stalk, or scape, is clipped out for use in the kitchen. It is imperative that the scapes be clipped so the plant doesn’t throw energy into forming flowers and seeds. By clipping and removing the scape, the plant is denied flowering and puts energy instead into its fattening roots — aka our garlic cloves. Hard necks tend to have fewer cloves that are fatter than their soft neck cousins. In my opinion, hard neck garlic is easier to peel and has better flavor than soft neck varieties. It’s spicy! The central shoot of hard necks is what produces the scape — an extra delicious shoot that is harvested in late spring.
Soft necks, on the other hand, have no stiff shoot in the center. This means they don’t offer up a tasty, succulent spring scape to eat. It also means they won’t have a stiff, central shoot later, which means they can be easier than hard necks to braid. They produce a lot of smaller cloves that I find papery and difficult to peel. But, they also store longer than hard necks.
The last bulb garlic we pulled out of the storage cellar was soft neck garlic that came from our CSA. So, I suppose I should confess that at least some of our garlic was purchased during last season. Because soft neck garlic stores longer than hard neck, I held off from using this until we had finished off the braids of our own hard necks. And, apparently, that plan worked. Here we are in the spring of 2010 enjoying another round of fresh garlic scapes and anticipating the larger harvest to come, which we will again cure, braid and hopefully enjoy until the 2011 scapes emerge next spring. It was those two or three cloves of soft neck from our final autumn CSA box that got us through the last weeks of May.
If you’re thinking of growing garlic, don’t forget to place your seed garlic orders this summer. Buy your seed garlic from a reputable garlic grower; the better the seed garlic, the better your crop will be. Seed garlic is shipped in early fall and planted in fall. It should emerge a few inches in the soil and then spend most of the winter doing what appears to be nothing. In spring, it begins to surge with growth again. It’s one of the last crops I plant for autumn — usually around Halloween. Oh, and don’t try planting garlic from the grocery store. It may have been treated with a growth inhibitor to extend its shelf life.
In addition to the creamy sorrel pesto recipe you’ll find here and a delicious garlicky cassoulet you’ll find here, consider using your scapes in any way you would garlic cloves. My general rule of thumb is one scape = one garlic clove. And, yes, I use the flower stalk and the un-opened flower as well. This may vary based on the size of your scapes and the variety of garlic you are growing.
Garlic-infused olive oil: snip several clippings off the bottom of your garlic scape stem. Smash them slightly to bruise in a small bowl. Pour over with olive oil and stir gently. The garlic flavor will infuse olive oil in just a few minutes. Use it for basting or even for flavoring toast. Or trim a few scapes to sink in a bottle of olive oil to infuse and give as a gift. It won’t store forever, so make sure you give this lovely gift to someone who will use it up quickly. (And by quickly, we mean within a couple of days. And, be sure to refrigerate it too!)
Roasted root vegetables: Wash, peel and prep root veggies like onion, carrot and potato for roasting. Toss with a bit of olive oil (or use some of the garlic-infused olive oil from the prior recipe). Roast veggies according to your usual methods. Toward the end of roasting. Snip a few garlic scapes into 1-2″ lengths and toss with roasting veggies. Return to oven and finish roasting for delicious, garlic-infused veggies. The garlic scapes will toast up into delicious chewy morsels as well.
Garlic scramble: Snip a length of garlic scape into small pieces. Saute in a bit of olive oil. Crack and whisk a few eggs in a bowl. Pour eggs into heated pan with sauted garlic. Finish as you would any other scramble.
Spring Vinaigrette: Snip a garlic clove into a jar. Add a few pinches of salt, a fresh grinding of pepper, a pinch of dried thyme and a teaspoon of honey. Pour in 1/4 cup of cider vinegar. Let rest as you make your salad. The vinegar will take the biting edge off the garlic. Before serving, whisk in about 1/2-3/4 cup of fruity olive oil. If you want it creamy, whisk in a 1/4 cup of plain yogurt to the blend. (I like to make mine in a mason jar so I can seal it for storage and for shaking vigorously before using. If I have stored a jar in the fridge for later use, I take it out just as I start making dinner to give the oil time to liquefy again before using.)