If garlic has a cult following, WNC has its fair share of steadfast devotees. Not only do we eat it, but area farmers and home gardeners grow it. Lots of it.
“We plant 300 pounds of seed a year,” says Anne Grier of Gaining Ground Farm, an Appalachian Grown Certified (TM) 75-acre operation run by Anne and her husband, Aaron, in Leicester. That sounds like a lot until she shares the end product: around 1,500 pounds, which they sell at area farmers markets and through their CSA program. Some also gets saved for seed the next year.
That’s why we’re talking about the allium now. October is the time to plant seed garlic, which local seed company Sow True Seed sells to droves of home growers and farmers. “Garlic is like basil 20 years ago. All of a sudden, everyone is growing it!” says Carol Koury, Sow True Seed’s owner. “We have hundreds of pounds of hardneck, softneck and elephant garlic varieties available for fall every year, and we always sell out.”
At Gaining Ground, a cover crop was planted mid-summer and has been breaking down ever since, enriching the soil. Because garlic likes soil with plenty of organic matter (that’s also slightly acidic and well-cultivated), Anne and Aaron are adding composted manure now. The planting will begin in a couple of weeks.
“It’ll take about three of us and one day to break up all of the bulbs into individual cloves,” Anne says of the process. “Then, it’ll take about a day to plant it all.” The couple recruits friends as well as interns for the big project.
They do get a little break after planting. Garlic starts sprouting around Christmas and growing in late February. But, there is still much to be done. “It’s in the ground for a really long time, so you have to stay on top of the weeding,” notes Anne.
“Garlic should be kept weed-free,” echoes Peter Waskiewicz, co-founder, seed director and resident garlic expert at Sow True Seed. His advice for home growers: “Mulch garlic with straw or leaves to conserve water, protect young bulbs through winter, and deter weeds.” He adds, “Shoots will push through the mulch in the spring. In summer, pull mulch away from the bulbs, as garlic needs to receive ample amounts of water through spring and summer.”
The rules are the same for both hardneck and softneck, the two types offered by Sow True and grown at Gaining Ground. What’s the difference?
According to Waskiewicz, softneck garlic is the most common. Almost all supermarket garlic is softneck, he explains, because it’s easier to grow and harvest mechanically and it keeps longer than hardneck. Next time you’re at the grocery, identify it by its white papery skin and abundance of cloves. Look for signs to find the hardneck type at area farmers markets. And also look for garlic braids. The Griers grow softneck specifically for that reason. They expect to bring the hanging braids to market beginning mid-October and have them through the holiday tailgates.
Most people prefer the taste (and ease of use) of hardneck, Waskiewicz says. Knowing that, the Griers grow mostly this type. In the spring, hardneck shoots up a stem, or edible scape, which coils and grows a number of bulbils (small bulbs). So, if you bought scapes from a farmer at market earlier this year, know they’ll have hardneck garlic for you now. The type can also be identified by its large cloves.
If you’re growing hardneck at home, Waskiewicz advises clipping the stem off early in the spring. “If the scape and bulbils are left in place, the plant will use energy to grow them that could be better used to grow the bulb.”
But, that’s looking ahead. Delectable scapes and green garlic, immature garlic that doesn’t require peeling and is less strong than its fully grown counterpart, won’t show up at area tailgates until mid- to late-May. Now’s the time to enjoy last year’s crop and get planting.
“There’s nothing more disappointing than having to turn away an excited new garlic grower because we’re sold out,” says Sow True’s Koury. That’s why they recommend home gardeners and farmers pre-order garlic, even as early as a spring seed order. If you didn’t pre-order this year, don’t worry. As of late September, they still had three varieties available: organic California Early, German White and Elephant. They expect to sell out of those by mid-October.
Some farmers also offer seed garlic. Brookshire Garlic Farm in Boone offers Certified Organic seed; they currently only have Elephant in stock. Find them online at http://getgarlic.com, or call 268-1756. And, you can always head to a farmers tailgate market and pick up some to eat and plant!
How much do you need? On average, one pound of seed garlic will plant 20 to 25 row feet of garlic when planted with six inches between cloves, Waskiewicz says. Each pound of hardneck seed garlic will yield 35 to 50 cloves, or approximately four to seven pounds. Each pound of softneck will yield 50 to 70 garlic cloves, or approximately six to ten pounds.
Learn more about Sow True’s offerings online at http://sowtrueseed.com. Find Gaining Ground at the Montford Farmers Market (Wednesdays) and the North Asheville Tailgate Market (Saturdays) through the end of the market season. In addition to garlic this fall, they plan to offer lettuce, carrots, beets, arugula, turnips, radishes, winter squash, sweet potatoes and more. The farm also offers grass-fed beef, eggs, and flowers. Also find them online at http://www.gaininggroundfarm-nc.com and on Facebook.
Browse more than 300 farms, tailgate markets, restaurants, and businesses offering/serving local garlic in ASAP’s Local Food Guide, online at buyappalachian.org. Garlic pairs well with fall’s Get Local featured ingredients: greens and winter squash. Learn more about ASAP’s Get Local campaign at asapconnections.org.
— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. Contact her at email@example.com.