Part of Jen Platt Hopkins 2010 garlic crop drying in her shed.
May I brag?
Daughter Jen has won a blue ribbon for the second year at the New Hampshire State Fair for her "Plate of Garlic". Each entrant must offer five (and only five) bulbs on a paper plate for the judging. Jen's garlic is both sweet an pungent, though the judges work only from appearance, not taste! Jen harvesting garlic in her garden surrounded by deer fence.
Jen grows vegetables, herbs and cut flowers in her Zone 4, Canterbury NH garden. It's a place where I weed for hours on end, surrounded by her lovelies and their delicious scents, away from my daily air of Manhattan. She grows stiff-neck garlic ( Allium sativum ophioscorodon, short name ophio, or top-set garlic) This species sends up a hard flower stalk that makes a tight loop at the top of the stem in some varieties, then forms a capsule at the tip holding tiny bulbils. The bulbils, about the size of a grain of wheat can be saved and planted. They take three years in the ground before they are big enough to dig for home use.
Stiff or soft?
Stiff-neck garlic is thought to be tastier than soft-neck varieties (Allium sativum), though it doesn't store as well, only 3-6 months so doesn't appear in your supermarket. The stiff-necked is also thought to be medicinally much more potent. The soft-neck garlic doesn't tolerate cold well and is usually restricted to southern gardens; but a few varieties have been adapted to colder regions. Its used for garlic braids because the stems are soft.
Just wait til next year
A superb characteristic of garlic is that the grower can set aside a small portion of the crop each year (called 'seed garlic') for next year's planting. Jen keeps big blemish-free bulbs for her 'seeds', harvesting in July, then planting in mid to late October after a light frost. After pulling from the ground bulbs are cleaned, then hung in an airy, dark place to dry. Before planting, cloves are carefully separated from the stem, but NOT peeled. Each bulb will produce 6-8 large cloves. Tiny cloves are used in cooking and not replanted.
Jen's first garlic came from a nearby farm, now defunct, and she's been saving her own seed garden for seven years. Friends Mary & Paul down the dirt road in Canterbury grow fruits and vegetables for their daily use. Mary stores her seed garlic by threading it through the slats of a wooden crate. (below)
To Eat or Admire?
Not only did Jen win first prize for her 'Plate of Garlic' but in 2008 she also won a blue ribbon in the category: "Dried Herbs, decorative", with a swag of stiff-neck garlic, calendula, sumac seed heads and chive flowers.It's the-same-but-different from the stiff-neck garlic swag that I created for my book 'Garlic, Onions & Other Alliums', by Ellen Spector Platt, Stackpole Books, 2003. Mine included three varieties of hot peppers, bay leaf, and sage, the idea being to use whatever herbs you have at hand with the stiff stems of the garlic providing the structure, and everything else being wrapped in bunches with wire to the garlic. What's the garlic equivalent of 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree'?
To learn all about garlic and other alliums, see my book, above.