Growing Garlic, Trying Patience

Posted on July 7, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

One of the first things I did when I moved to Pittsburgh was purchase some garlic to plant. I had a yard of my own for the first time, and I was all sorts of excited to be able to Grow Things. Several days after I moved into my new pad, I attended a local food event called Rachel’s Sustainable Feast. The Rachel Carson Bridge was full of food purveyors and vendors. One of the vendors was a dude selling garlic bulbs, many many garlic bulbs. Well, I cook with a lot of garlic, so it seemed like a logical choice for me to try my hand at growing it. I figured I’d buy some garlic, bury it, and it would be ready by the first snowfall of the winter. First wrong assumption.

Turns out, I wouldn’t even be able to plant the garlic for several months. The festival on the bridge took place at the end of August, but garlic planting wasn’t meant to happen until Columbus Day. So the two brown bags with one head of garlic in each sat on my kitchen counter for two months, slowly pushed out of the way and into a tiny corner. Finally, garlic planting day arrived. I planted the bulbs and promptly made my second wrong assumption. I figured there would be no need to write down which types of garlic I had planted. For sure I’d just remember what went where. I have no idea why I assumed I would remember. Of course I wouldn’t. And of course I didn’t. Lesson: always write down what you’re planting.

Winter comes and goes. (I say that like it was no big deal. Obviously my memory of horrible, cold months with nothing but snowfall and grey sky is about as solid as my memory of what kind of garlic I planted.) Eight tiny stalks pop out of the ground. Garlic sprouts! I planted ten, but I’ll take eight. OK, seven. One died almost immediately. OK, six. Another died shortly after the first one. Then there were five, and frankly, two of them were looking pretty small. But they all kept growing. I was anxious to harvest them. But when should I do that? I assumed garlic that overwinters would be ready early in the spring. No. Garlic is ready late spring/early summer. More waiting.

Here’s how you know it’s ready for harvest:

The garlic plant will grow and grow. And then a shoot will emerge from the center of the plant. This is the scape. It will become a flower eventually, if you let it. But you’re not going to let it. Once it curls, you’re going to snip it. And you’re going to eat it–it has a lovely mild flavor. Now the penultimate test of patience begins. Once again, you’re going to have to wait. How long? About 20 days from the time you cut the scapes. And then…it’s time to pull the garlic.

Loosen the soil around the bulb, and gently pull up. There is is–after months and months of waiting, you finally get to see what your garlic looks like. For me this was…disappointing. Of the five garlic plants that survived to maturity, only one of them was what you might call a show-stopper. The rest, well, you might call them “little buddy.” At least I could put them in my pantry and enjoy the spoils of my patience. I can’t do that yet?! What? Wait.

Garlic must first be cured before it can be stored. The Final Test of Patience. One of my professors sent me a link that will take you through the curing process. Check it out. Three more weeks of waiting. Balls. Of course, you can totally use some of it right away. You only have to cure the garlic you plan on keeping around.

So, what’s next for my garlic? I’ve used the smallest head already. It’s noticeably more flavorful than grocery store garlic. The other heads have cured nicely, and are just about ready to store. I’m going to save the biggest one and replant that on Columbus Day. Patience never ends, right?

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[…] many spinach salads or lightly wilted spinach. Luckily for me, my garlic started to scape (see my post on harvesting garlic for more information on garlic scapes), and the snow pea plants are producing (a bucket-load) of […]


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