Mythical Gourmet Garlic

February 23, 2007

I’ve published a number of articles related to growing garlic here on this site, so I thought that I knew a little bit about gourmet garlic and growing it in the home garden.

But after listening to a workshop on garlic presented by David Stern of the Garlic Seed Foundation, I realized that there is much more to discover about the workings of this amazing plant.

Garlic Bulbs Curing.thumbnail Mythical Gourmet GarlicI enjoy eating and cooking with garlic, but I’m totally fascinated by growing this plant, and the more I learn about it the more intriguing garlic becomes. Considering that it’s such an easy crop to grow; its history, development, and growth habits are surprisingly complex, mysterious, and unlike anything else in the plant world.

If I could only grow one plant in my vegetable garden it just might be filled from one end to the other with gourmet garlic!

Following are some of the interesting facts and tips that I recently picked up about gourmet garlic from David Stern’s workshop at this year’s PASA Organic Farming Conference:

Garlic Myths and Fallacies

  • Garlic cloves and bulbs are plant roots. In reality garlic cloves are modified leaf structures. The leaves that you see above ground are a continuation of the cloves and bulb wrappers that you find below the soil’s surface. The center of each clove also contains a tiny leaf, or rather a sprout, which will serve as the nucleus of future generations of the plant.
  • Garlic can’t make seed and reproduce sexually. That’s false, garlic’s sexual habits probably have more to do with the way that man has cultivated this ancient crop. Plant garlic at altitudes above 4000 feet and it will revert back to its natural habits and produce viable seed. It’s also possible for the backyard gardener to force garlic to produce seed.
  • Softneck garlic stores better and longer than the hardneck varieties. Actually softneck garlic’s incredible storage capability has more to do with the controlled growing and storage conditions employed by the commercial growers, who use softneck varieties exclusively. Softneck garlic in and of itself is not necessarily a better storing garlic than the hardneck varieties.
  • You can’t wash garlic after harvesting. It sounds logical that you can clean garlic bulbs with water, but I’m still a little hesitant about trying this on my own precious home grown garlic. David’s rationale is that the bulbs are covered with moisture when taken out of the ground, so of course they can handle a little rinsing off. I probably won’t try this myself, but if you do be sure to allow the bulbs to dry thoroughly.

Gourmet Garlic News and Tidbits

  • California is no longer the garlic growing capital of the world; that title is now claimed by China. And all of that garlic on your grocer’s shelves most likely arrived from the other side of the world. The vast majority of the world’s supply of garlic is now grown in China, but unfortunately the Chinese adopted the same bad habit of cultivating a single type of run of the mill softneck garlic from their predecessors in California.
  • Speaking of growing commercial garlic, one of the reasons that the large garlic growers limit their plantings to that monotonous softneck variety is because the seed can be mechanically planted without regards to which end is up, unlike gourmet hardneck garlic seed, which needs to be planted by hand, and right side up to produce the best results.
  • Recent DNA testing has revealed that there are actually only ten distinct garlic types. Many varieties of garlic sold under different names are genetically identical. Garlic adapts to its environment and a single garlic strain will exhibit various characteristics, habits, clove size, and appearances when grown in different locations, or under different growing conditions. So those dissimilar descriptions in the seed catalog could actually refer to the same garlic that has been cultivated in different regions of the country.
  • Garlic plants are keenly aware of day length and notice immediately when the days begin growing shorter. At that point the plants terminate above ground leaf growth and instead shift their energy into building reserves below ground through the formation of cloves. Garlic bulb development occurs very rapidly at the end of the plant’s growth cycle and is a direct response to the plant recognizing that daylight is waning and its days are numbered.

Garlic Growing Tips

  • Choose your garlic seed stock wisely. Viruses and diseases are far too common with garlic, even on seed garlic that is purchased from reputable commercial sources. Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to detect some of the garlic diseases and they can be present on the plants and seeds without being expressed.
  • Remove the garlic scapes soon after they make their appearances on the plants. The scapes will steal energy from the bulbs and result in a thirty percent reduction in bulb size if they are allowed to remain on the plant.
  • Always plant gourmet hardneck garlic with the pointed end of the seed clove up and the root scar facing downward, otherwise you’ve just sacrificed another thirty percent of your bulb production.
  • Remove any garlic plants that are yellowed, misshapen, or otherwise look and behave differently than other plants of the same variety. There’s a good chance that such differences are the result of a plant virus or disease that is altering the plant’s DNA. It’s safe to eat the bulbs of these mutations, but don’t leave them in the field or store them alongside healthy garlic bulbs.

Cooking Gourmet Garlic

  • Research shows that cooking removes most of the highly touted health benefits of eating garlic. But you can preserve most of the health promoting elements of your garlic simply by allowing the cloves sit for a few minutes after they have been chopped or crushed. Get all the details from an article posted over at Big News for Garlic.
  • The same website also offers some very interesting information and tips regarding prepping gourmet garlic for culinary uses.

I’ve barely scratched the surface on the life and mysteries of gourmet garlic, but I hope you get a sense of how fascinating garlic is and will include a variety or two in your own backyard vegetable garden.

For more garlic information and growing tips check out the Gourmet Garlic Culture category on this gardening blog or visit the Garlic Seed Foundation’s website. This entry has been submitted as part of the Weekend Herb Blogging Event for the week of February 25, 2007.





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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Gotta Garden February 25, 2007 at 6:18 pm

I love garlic! Although I grow it on a small scale in my backyard, I cannot imagine a garden without it! It gives me great satisfaction!

Thanks for your info!

Kalyn February 25, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Never imagined garlic growing in China, so I just learned something new.

Helene February 26, 2007 at 6:19 am

I love garlic and since spring is in the air I have to plant it this year definitely. Thanks!! :))

Bobby February 27, 2007 at 10:24 pm

To Helene: Spring is in the air and it’s too late to plant your garlic if you want it to grow big. I could never figure out why mine never grew big. One day my stepbrother told me to plant it in November. Yep, the winter time. It’s now february and its HUGE!! It has it’s own natural antifreeze in it. It will not freeze! Try it. I think you’ll be surprised.

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