How Does Your Garlic Grow?

Well, mine doesn’t; not yet anyway. But soon, those little cloves will be nestled in the fertile South Glastonbury soil (best blueberries and peaches ever, perhaps?), and as the winter chill shuts down so much of Mother Nature, they will prepare to go to work, to send out their roots in the spring, and form more cloves, and shoot those artfully curving scapes up through the ground.

Whaddaya mean, stinking?

This is the theory, anyway. We will see what the reality is, for my little gourmet garlic garden.

I realize, of course, that this is to some degree a diversion, a process to take my mind off the IMD and the aloneness (and yes, sometimes loneliness). And I realize, on the grand scale of such diversions, this is not one of the most scintillating. I mean, I could go with cheap booze, cheaper women, and more drugs than a CVS, but why take the well-trod path? No, growing gourmet garlic it is, along with the pursuit of Italian citizenship (more on that in another post) and the dream of a commercial website devoted to vegan eating and travel (that one is a little more nebulous at this point than the other two).

So, the first question from the devoted C?WC? reader might be: Why on earth garlic? The simplest answer is, It’s really easy to grow.

A scapescape (as opposed to a landscape...oh, never mind)

The more nuanced answer is, I grew some last fall, because it was one of the crops I knew I could raise late in the growing season, after our arrival in the new home. I had grown some years ago at my parents’, when I kept a little garden there while I lived in various rental situations. I don’t remember being bowled over by my production, but the ease of growing it stuck. Then, the small crop from last fall came up this spring, and I saw the wildly looping scapes with their little pods. I had no clue what they were, but I thought they looked cool. Turns out my “seed” cloves, locally grown, were from the hard-neck variety of garlic. What we see in the grocery stores (leaving aside elephant garlic), is the usually scapeless soft-neck variety, the type commonly grown commercially on a vast scale.

I noticed something else about the little hard-neck (little in the literal sense, since it produced many fewer cloves than the commercial type), once I harvested it and dried it out. It tasted sweeter, not as hot, and of course fresher than what I was used to from the store. And so an idea was born – grow garlic. Gourmet garlic, obscure hard-neck types sure to have a variety of flavors. Maybe even find a little upscale restaurant or two nearby that might want to buy some local garlic, organically raised if not certified so, and their delicate scapes, said to add a subtle garlic taste to many dishes (see a few here).

So I quickly found a source for gourmet bulbs; two pounds worth. I have no clue how much that it is, though I suspect it will provide more seeds than I can plant (and of course I will taste a clove or two from each variety, to get a sense of its flavor). I suppose there’s still time to go to Stop and Shop and load up two pounds of heads on the scale, to get an idea of the quantity, and then put them back. That won’t be weird, right? (No weirder than obsessing about gourmet garlic…)

As I await the garlic, today I finally began the prep work for this new endeavor: digging the garden. The old spot I once used at my parents’ had long ago reverted to lawn, so I took shovel in hand, put the point to the earth, placed my foot on top, and pushed…

Huh. I don’t remember the ground being that hard here. Is it because the grass has had all year to grow roots and become like thatch? Or maybe because it’s been dry here for awhile. And what’s with this rock I keep hitting not too far below the surface? I try a few different spots and keep clanging against the same rock. I finally extract it and it’s about the size of home plate. A few minutes later I unearth another one, even larger.

The sweat is now streaming on this cool Sunday morning. About half an hour  in, I have tilled a swath maybe three feet wide and the same long. I had expected to be a lot farther along by now. I had expected it to be easier, as it had been so many years before. Hampering the progress is a creaky back, getting creakier, and this funky elbow pain that can flare up with a lot less physical activity than today’s – like hoisting a beer – now sending up some bright red hurt signals.

My mother watches me from the back door, sees my struggle, hears my not-muttered swears. I bemoan the difficulty of today compared to all those years ago.

“Well, you’re a lot older,” she sagely observes.

Thanks, Ma, and yes, I was thinking the same thing. But I soldier on, shovel into ground, foot on shovel, push, struggle, turn over earth, repeat. Finally, I stop and look over the tilled earth. The garden is not as big as I imagined it would be. So I’ll just cook more of the seeds and plant less. It is done, I decree; I have accomplished the first major step of the new project! A bit of hoeing to get rid of the clumps of grass and break up more of the soil, then I call it a day.

Next week, I’ll put down my organic fertilizer, and by mid-month those little cloves should be nestled in the ground. I can forget about them over the winter and let nature do its thing. Then I can focus on the citizenship, which, whatever struggles it brings with Italian bureaucrats, should at least spare my back and not remind me of how young I once was. But of course, you can’t roast a passport, or spread it on a piece of fresh bread. Well, I guess you could, but I can’t imagine it would taste as good as your own homegrown garlic. Yum.

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~ by mburgan on September 26, 2010.

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