Big, beautiful garlic, and a book draw

Mary Ann & garlic

Mary Ann Moran, good friend that she is, credits my book, In Pursuit of Garlic: An Intimate Look at the Divinely Odorous Bulb, with helping her to grow good garlic. Enter a draw for your very own copy: send me your name at the end of this posting. The draw will be made August 15, 2013

That’s my friend Mary Ann Moran above, proudly showing off her garlic, harvested in mid-July. That seemed early to me, so when she sent me her pictures I ran out to check my own crop. Yes, most of the plants looked ready, meaning some of the lower leaves were browning with the top ones still a healthy green. Usually I don’t harvest garlic until at least the end of July, sometimes early August. Maybe our hot weather brought them on quicker.

Many new growers of garlic think there’s some kind of magic in knowing when to dig it up–you need a talent for “reading the leaves,” as some wit once said to me–but I think it’s really a matter of checking the leaves regularly for browning, which I didn’t do this year because I’d sworn off gardening for a week after our most recent garden tour July 14. Woe to me–while I was watching TV the weeds grew with abandon and the garlic ripened! So now I’m dealing with them both.

Although it has only two or three partially browning leaves, I had to find out if the garlic plant in the photo below left was ready so I carefully inserted my trowel a few inches from the base of the plant and loosened the bulb. Up it came, covered with the detritus of its prenatal home, like all newborns. It looked a bit small, but perfectly formed. (A caveat here: growing garlic among other plants is not advisable because garlic needs as much sun as it can get, but the pink catchfly seen in the picture seeded itself and is so pretty I couldn’t bear to take it out. The plants grow only about 10 inches high and don’t reach full size till the garlic is almost ready, so I rationalized.)

The photo on the right shows the garlic dug up, with most of the dirt brushed off, sunning itself on the deck. Would it have produced a bigger bulb if I’d left it in the ground longer? That’s every garlic grower’s question. But its sister garlics, which I planted at the same time and dug up a week after this one, are no bigger. They will all be deliciously garlicky, I know, even if they are smalller than some.

garlic before digginggarlic just dug

There is a risk in leaving garlic in the ground too long hoping for bigger bulbs, by the way. The bulbs can start to split, with the skin loosening and the cloves separating (Mother Nature’s way of propagation–each clove would grow to be a new plant). Split bulbs or those with loose skins are perfectly edible in the short term, but they won’t last long. They shouldn’t be stored because they’re prone to rot.

May Ann’s garlic is impressively big, especially for a first-year harvest. Garlic is a funny plant–it gets bigger and better if you replant some of the cloves from your current harvest for next year. It’s almost as if it has to get used to your environment to feel comfortable enough to put forth its best effort. When I asked Mary Ann if she’d done anything special to ensure big bulbs, she said, “I have great soil, thanks to my compost pile. I also mulched well last fall with leaf mould and shredded leaves, although the weeds this year weren’t too bad because of the mulch.”

This is Mary Ann’s second year growing garlic, and she looks like a natural. “But I’m far more educated now because I read your book,” she said, sweet girl. “I think I did harvest early, but I had several varieties and they all started to brown at different times, so I decided to harvest them all at the same time.”

‘Russian Red’ and ‘Portugal Azores’ are the best in her harvest, she says, and ‘Pitarelli’ is pretty good, too. I can’t name my garlic varieties this year because they were a gift and the donor didn’t know what they were. But in the past I’ve had success with ‘Lorz Italian’, a softneck that has a richer taste than most others in the Artichoke category, and the hardnecks ‘Music’ (a favourite variety in Ontario, brought here from Italy by Al Music in the 1980s); ‘Majestic’ (developed at Beaver Pond Estates in Ontario); and of course ‘Spanish Roja’, a Rocambole type, everyone’s favourite garlic for its rich but mellow taste.

If all these names confuse you, get my book, In Pursuit of Garlic, which tells you all you need to know about nature’s most unappreciated plant, from how to grow it and what types to try, to its history and lore. Recipes, too. Take a look at the new excerpt from my book on this site, too–it reveals my experiences with my first garlic harvest.

And drop me a line–I’ll put your name in the pot and draw one for a copy of my book, the above named In Pursuit of Garlic: An Intimate Look at the Divinely Odorous
I’m making the draw August 15, 2013, so don’t miss it.

13 thoughts on “Big, beautiful garlic, and a book draw

    • Yes, I do plan some posts inspired by Quebec City. But I’ve been so busy weeding since I got homeI haven’t had time! Funny how a few days away gives you a new perspective of your (messy) garden. Liz

    • Thanks for passing it along… garlic is easy to grow, but a few more tips never hurts. Maybe you or your neighbour would like to enter my book draw. Liz

  1. Here’s a puzzler: I’ve been in my house three years and I’ve never planted garlic. Yet this spring in both my front and back gardens, I noticed garlic scapes. Mystified, I let them ripen, and when the scapes uncurled (and before the flowers opened), I harvested them. While small, they’re unmistakably garlic bulbs and quite pungent, too. Gifts from the squirrels? Ancient cloves planted by my predecessor that somehow came to life? I’m scratching my head.

  2. These plants grew from the bulbils, the little clove-like things that grow with the (infertile) flowers in the umbel, at the top of the scape. The former owner must have grown garlic and let scapes stay on. When the umbels ripen and open, they let loose the bulbils, which plant themselves and eventually, after maybe three years, develop into garlic plants. At first they’re small, but if they continue to reproduce they’ll grow into multicloved bulbs. Save some of the cloves and plant them this fall–you should get bigger garlic next year. Garlic, by the way, does not reproduce via flowers and seeds as other plants do–they lost that ability years ago. No birds and bees for them.

  3. Would love the book. Planted garlic for the first time. I think
    I could have pulled it a wee bit earlier because the stalks were fairy dry. However, the bulbs are good sized and tight.

    • As long as the skins are tight and the cloves aren’t separating, your garlic should store for several weeks, maybe months, just fine. Even if the bulbs are separating into cloves –meaning they were left in the ground a tetch too long–they’re still fine to eat. They just won’t store well.

  4. Your book sounds great! My first harvest turned out with respectable sized bulbs. Can’t wait to try again this fall.

  5. Here on the east coast(NS) my garlic has been harvested. Nice crop this year and also a little early. Liz, I have heard you several times on the radio with Niki Jabbour. It is a treat to hear the two of you chatting about all things gardening.

    A note about how I almost met you about thirty years ago. You were travelling through NB looking for gardens to feature in Canadian Gardening. My husband had the pleasure I was out getting groceries. Danm!! I still have the letter you wrote tucked in my garden journal. We moved Halifax shortly after.

    Should you ever come to Halifax I’ll collect Niki and we can sit and talk garlic and all things gardening.
    Love your blog.

    Donna in Halifax

    • That would be lovely, Donna. Niki is great to have a conversation with–about gardening or whatever else one chooses. I remember a nice man showing me around some gardens years ago–but it wasn’t Halifax. Dartmouth?
      I presume you want your name entered in the draw for my book.

      • Yes please, I would love my name entered in the draw for your book and I do hope we have a chance to meet some time.

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