We want to be more sustainable, so we've been thinking a lot about planting and storing in larger quantities. It's autumn, and we had a fairly successful garden this year. We ate a lot fresh, and that's about it. We didn't have any quantity to save for this winter. So we're taking the next step for next winter and becoming truly ready. One thing we love is garlic, and we not only want to have some fresh next summer, but also enough to last us the winter.
Garlic is classified as a biennial. My best guess would be that we were supposed to plant a seed in the spring and at the end of the season you'd have a single bulb, like a shallot. Then the next year that single bulb would develop the cloves you are familiar with from the grocery store. But humans quickly discovered that you can just plant a clove in the fall and it'll develop into a full bulb the next summer.
In most plants that you harvest for its root or leaves, the flower, and resulting seed head is considered a waste of energy. You'll let some go to seed to collect, but mostly you'll pinch them off so all the energy goes into the leaves or root. After discovering it was possible to propagate from cloves, people started selecting garlic based on its bulb size and how much energy went to the bulb instead of the flower and stalk. Since then, over thousands of years, garlic has become sterile and unable to be grown from seed.
So does this matter? True offspring, rather than clones are the best way that plants develop resistance to disease. Since the 1980s there has slowly been some success in bringing fertility back to garlic.
First we got a 2kg bag of a variety called "Music" from William Dam Seeds in West Flamborough. This variety has large cloves, with a purplish tinge to the skin and apparently a pungent odour.
Our second batch is a variety pack from The Cutting Veg. There are 35 bulbs with an average of 5 cloves each, in varieties including Ukrainian, Persian, Former Yugoslavian, Russian, Tibetan, Italian and, declaring independence, Sicilian. We placed our order online, and Jesse picked the bag up on Monday at the Sorauren Farmers Market.
This week Jesse's dad Jerry said that he is going to clear and till a nice chunk of land for us to plant our garlic at their farm. We are pretty excited. In the spring we will pick our garlic scapes (remember this article?) and by this time next year we will have more garlic than we will know what to do with.
If you're interested in growing garlic this year, act now! Seed garlic is usually sold out during September. Or maybe visit a farmer's market and buy a bulb, eat half, and plant the rest. Technically you could plant that vaguely-sourced Chinese garlic from the supermarket, but I've read it's been treated with anti-sprouting chemical inhibitors, so it doesn't sprout on it's sadly long journey. It'd probably be hit-and-miss. Instead, grab a bulb that was grown in the area and is probably used to our weather.