Saturday, November 8, 2014

Garlic Planting Guide and Discovering a Garlic Zombie!

I always thought garlic was used to ward off vampires and zombies. 
This season I learned garlic could attract a kind of garlic zombie as well.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, let’s get right to the important news: tips on planting your own homegrown garlic. After all, there’s not a moment to lose.
The window for planting garlic here on the US east coast is closing all too soon. 
But there is still time.  Climate change can be your friend…

We thrill to our homegrown garlic – sharing it as a gift and enjoying the taste and health benefits of garlic.  (See the Garlic “Fun Facts” below.)
I love to smash a garlic clove and add it to a savory breakfast or lunch of Mother’s weekly, fresh-baked bread - lightly toasted, doused with avocado or extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and fresh avocado. 
Sometimes I add fresh-made ricotta cheese.
Sometimes I also add anchovies with red pepper. 
At a recent WNYC Lopate & Locavore event, How to Write a Cookbook the NY Times food writer and cookbook author Melissa Clark, (@goodappetite ) who I adore -and refer to as “Culinary Cutie,” noted a shared love of anchovies and says she uses them in most every recipe when she can.  Me too.
Melissa is so irrepressible – when I told her I refer to her as a "Culinary Cutie" – she squealed delight in her signature high- pitched, super-energy style, saying, “I love that!  I’m gonna’ put that on my business card!” 
More Culinary Cutie love...  

One of the garlic varieties we enjoyed last year was sweet and juicy Music.
Another was Duganski.  And then there was the exotic, cinema-sounding “Indochine.”
This year we planted Inchelium Red Garlic. German Red Garlic and Russian Red Garlic.  

The texture of homegrown garlic is akin to a water chestnut -- its shared characteristics are crunchy, juicy, light and flavorful. 
Homegrown garlic is nothing like the overbearing, petulant garlic that most are accustomed to -- and that lingers on the breath and the clothes far too long.
Not so with fresh-from-the-garden garlic. 

Soil Prep

My husband Bill – a passionate and dedicated master cook and gardener --had already taken the soil from this year’s “Compost Cabanas” and transferred it to the farm-ette – spreading the rich, organic “black gold” as a top dressing.  

We got a bit more than usual this year because we must have the house foundation rebuilt before we do the second half of our home’s renovation – and the compost bins had to be broken down and removed for the work to be done.   
(Don’t you just hate spending all that money on infrastructure when it could go directly to a beautiful, glamorous tub or fireplace?? Sigh…I’m having fun teasing friends, saying, “No one ever says, “I just love your foundation.”  

But let me refocus.
The farm-ette benefited from the extra layer of black gold soil there is no doubt.

Bill measured off three garlic beds marked by string; each bed is nine inches by 12 inches, for a total planting bed that is 18 feet long and 3 feet wide.  

We planted the garlic cloves about a foot or so apart.  


And labeled them.  
We plan to yield about 100 garlic bulbs next harvest.

Not to be overlooked is the beauty of the garlic plant.  Who couldn’t help love the graceful, globe-shaped sphere of the allium flowers in the spring? A happy lavender color – in fact it’s a glamorous Pantone Color of the Year 2014 Radiant Orchid.

And we love eating the garlic scapes in late spring.

We order our garlic – and potatoes from the The Maine Potato Lady – a certified organic grower and handler. I highly recommend them.

The Garlic Zombie

Ok, the zombie the reference might be a smidge too dramatic but it’s a fun way to refer to a situation that is one of those bizarre “only in the garden” tales.
Let me set the stage.

One of my dearest garden clients is a celebrated family who live together in the best way possible: extended, multi-generational - with the kids all the way to the great uncle -- as in their grandfather’s brother. “Great” is not just a moniker. But in the end – he is truly better than ‘Great.” I cite him as inspiration in my book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook."

The cultural, cerebral, adored uncle has been oh-so-unfairly anointed with a progressive movement disorder.  I only bring this up with great discretion and respect as it figures into the garlic caper.
See, the medical situation gave rise to the need for an in-residence/on-site medical professional to assist with nutrition, physical therapy and consequently, a kind of  “Jeeves & Wooster” errand and adventure, about -town kind of dynamic.
All good.

With regard to the garlic planning, the story’s first chapter opened like this:
Last year about this time, I’d asked one of my Duchess Designs team members – the master gardener, Dennis – to plant some of our Russian Red garlic that I’d gifted to Uncle B.
This Russia element would come to play perhaps a critical character role in the garlic saga…
See, the good doctor is from Georgia – not the state that embraces Atlanta and all things peachy – but the country of Georgia.
And when Dennis attempted to plant the Russian Red garlic, the good doctor stridently halted any notion of garlic planting.  In fact, he took the garlic and put it in the refrigerator.  No planting till spring, he declared.
Being the respectful, client-focused team member, Dennis backed off and didn’t argue.
Later, when he told me, I thought it was a fantasy.  Surely it was a misunderstanding.

It was only after an early frost (precursor to last winter’s crushing frost that area nurseries told me led to heartbreaking plant loss.  One respected nursery owner described the scramble to water spray to heat the plants and move as much as possible to the greenhouses.  To no avail… it was too much cold; too fast, too “unexpected.”
In this case, Climate Change – was decidedly not our friend.

Once that frost occurred there was no going back. 
We lost our window of opportunity to plant the garlic.
Nevertheless, like incredulous, bereft, caregivers, Uncle B and me found ourselves at the refrigerator door.  We couldn’t help but peer inside, staring down the garlic.
It was perched there like bad kids in detention – knowing that once the fridge door closed they’d be getting away with something – they knew they didn’t belong there.
It was as if we were willing them to get out of there into their rightful place in the garden.
The garlic seemed to thumb their nose at us – it was to be a winter garden party of sorts for them – all snug inside and not working to root in anything as their job required.
All aided by the good doctor.
My unconfirmed psychic-babble suggested that perhaps in Russia it is far too cold to plant garlic in the autumn. Perhaps the ground freezes way too much and so they plant garlic in the spring.
I meant to research this but because in our situation it was of no consequence – I didn’t pursue it.
Woe to those who are unprepared …

Harvest Time 2014

This autumn, Bill and I harvested a bountiful crop of that same, spicy, flavorful garlic. 
Uncle B’s? Not so much.  In fact after a spring planting there was just a whisper of garlic to be had – slivers  - not worth a smear, a roast, or even a taste. 
It was like Scarlett O’Hara seeing the crummy carrot in Tara’s fields when she passionately rips the tuber from the ground swearing, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
Well this garlic was like that. No one was going to eat it; much less enjoy it. 

So it was almost with a small sense of logical smugness that I thought we would never encounter any kind of garlic contretemps this year. After seeing the non-harvest tweezer-sized harvest, who could disagree that fall planting was the way to go.
I was wrong.

What happened next is too hilarious – but trust me—all true.

This year, I asked my Mother, Virginia, to deliver the Red Russian garlic to Darin – another superlative Master Gardener I’m privileged to have working on the Duchess Designs team. 
Darin was constructing an extended edible garden bed with borders from the wood we had left over after building the tiered corner “beach” garden beds. 
I’ll write about this design concept and construction shortly.

As it was, we laid out the extended edible garden, secured the extraordinary super soil for maximum benefit, eager to plant our client’s edible garden.

Later the next week, I asked Darin via text how the new garden bed construction and garlic planting went.
Confirming the garden bed was “all good,” he wrote that the garlic was taken before planting.
I couldn’t understand  - who took it and why.

So here is the incredible, can’t make this up sequence of why the garlic wasn’t planted  -- and how my Duchess Design team – aka Garden CSI – and Uncle B surreptitiously coordinated in order to get the garlic planted.

It seems the good doctor must have been monitoring the new garden bed construction.
Is he a “Garlic Whisperer?” A “Garlic Zombie?!” 
How did he know we’d be planting the garlic?  Was he monitoring our moves?

In any event – it turns out it was indeed the good doctor who saw Darin planting the garlic. 
At the point he came out to hijack the garlic! 
Despite the no-yield harvest and subtle suggestions about the best time to plant garlic here, the good doctor was unyielding.
I was mystified about what had transpired, (not being on-site that day) and had written to Uncle B to ask about shedding some light on the situation.
I learned from great, good, uncle that in fact, he had to intervene. He took the garlic from the good doctor, telling me, "We were about to face the problem again so I confiscated the garlic and waited for your response. Let's plant the garlic in a place different from the beds (handled by the good doctor) and show him the results in the spring. He is unreasonable on this subject. He does his job tending to physical arrangements for me… Attempting to persuade him on the garlic planting is a waste of time…”

The Garlic Plot Thickens.

Alas, not the plating kind of plot! 
The next chapter in the garlic saga was me and Uncle B emailing about how the Duchess Design team would secure the garlic from him and secretly plant it in the front yard – far from suspecting and suspicious eyes that might yet again thwart the garlic growth.

After the clandestine planting, Dennis wrote, “He (Uncle B) stealthily handed off the garlic goods to me. I surreptitiously planted seven cloves of Russian Red out front. I placed a small flag to denote the location. Hoping the garlic zombie is not on to me.)

Fingers crossed our secret garlic planting is a) not discovered and b) Mother Nature favors us with a bountiful garlic harvest next year.

Lest anyone think there is no intrigue or mystery in our home gardens, this homegrown tale is sure to bring a smile and badge of hope to all your armchair garden friends this winter who think the drama of King Louis XIV and his Versailles and Nicolas Fouquet and his Vaux-le-Vicomte and their garden battle of the wills contest from a long-ago era doesn’t happen here.  Look no further.

We managed to triumph this year and look forward to a good garlic harvest.
This was just an incredible series of garden dramas that will surely be an authentic, fun story to pass on under the banner of "you can't make this stuff up!"

Plants incite passion!

Garlic Fun Facts -- Did you know that?

  ·          Garlic can ward off vampires!

  ·          Garlic is rich in antioxidants which help destroy free radicals

  ·         Garlic is used to prevent heart disease, including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and boosts the immune system.

  ·         Garlic may also protect against cancer

  ·         Garlic may help prevent the common cold

  ·         Gravediggers in 18th Century France drank crushed garlic in wine, believing it would protect them from the plague.

  ·        World War I & II soldiers were given garlic to prevent gangrene.

  ·        China is the world’s largest producer of garlic, followed by India

  ·        Egyptians fed it to the workers as they built the pyramids

  ·        Alliums are beautiful plants with puffy hairdo heads on a slender tall reed

  ·         The word garlic comes from Old English: garleac which means Spear Leek

But in the end – it’s all about the taste.  And homegrown garlic is unrivaled in its flavor.  So get out and plant your garlic. Even if it’s in your containers. 

You will thank me next year.

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