Garlic is everywhere. It flavors everything from tomato sauce to omelettes to shrimp. In grocery stores, it’s an ever-present shelf stable dry good, just like a box of cereal. Sometimes visitors to the farm are surprised to learn that garlic is a bulb that grows underground–just one of those things you never think to think of.
Garlic is indeed a bulb, and we grow a lot of it here at the farm. July is high garlic month and until processing is over, you’ll know me by the smell of marinara.
There are as many types of garlic as there are types of apple. You’ve got red, purple, giant and wild. Long-storage, soft-flesh, winter keepers and seed garlic. There’s soft neck and hard neck–the hard necks being the bearers of scapes.
But only small farms and backyard gardeners access this treasure trove. Commercial growers in America and elsewhere typically grow just one soft neck variety for the sake of uniformity in machine-run operations. A whopping 90% of the garlic sold in America is grown in China. Another 8% is grown in California, of the uniform soft-neck variety. That leaves us in a very select group–we and other small American farms grow the remaining 2% of garlic from heirloom seed. Garlic that runs the length of taste from spicy to mild, the breadth of size from delicate to elephant, and upholds the history of heirloom selection that preserves traits that are interesting: flavors, colors, resistance to pests or disease.
Heirloom garlic is special, and it takes a lot of care to cure it properly. Here’s a farmer’s inside peek into the process.
Harvested garlic is bundled, labeled, and laid out to dry on tables. With all the heavy June rain, the garlic was 2-3 weeks early this year–but it does not want to dry and stop growing.
Next, we lop the tops….
Lay it out to dry again…
And, finally, trim the roots and remove dirty outer skin.
And oh yeah, we have another harvest hanging in the barn until we clear some more processing space in the greenhouse!