Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Volunteer Garlic

We moved to our farm over 4 years ago. The year we moved in, the previous owners had a few long rows of garlic that had been planted the fall before, and it was written into our house buying contract that they'd be able to come back and harvest it that summer. I have never planted garlic in the garden, but we still get garlic every year, volunteers from that last crop.

Last year was the first time we harvested any, mostly because it's scattered around in inconvenient areas and it just got scythed or ignored. Last fall we found some while scything the entire acre of garden to clear it of tall weeds. It was well after it should have been harvested so it wasn't pretty, but it still tasted great! I was amazed to find decent-sized bulbs, because I always thought that it would be difficult to grow garlic in our heavy, rocky clay soil. I'm not entirely sure what kind of garlic it is, but the Thornes have told me they planted a spicy red asian garlic. It's definitely not the white garlic they also grew. This year I've been regularly scything the garden to keep the weeds under control, so I noted where the garlic was, scythed around it, and kept an eye on it until it looked ready to pull. It's a hardneck variety and I didn't manage to pick all the scapes, so I also ended up with quite a few garlic bulbils, which is what the scapes turn into if you leave them alone.

The bulbils are really just tiny cloves of garlic, and are part of the reason that we've still got a garlic crop coming up after several years.

The bulbils take a few years to turn into full heads of garlic. The first year, they produce a "garlic round", which is a single round clove that will turn into a small head the next year.

I sorted the garlic crop by size. Bulbils and rounds were kept to be re-planted this fall in neat rows, along with the largest cloves (which will produce full heads of garlic). I definitely want to expand my garlic crop, and the best part about using this variety is that it's had a few years to adapt to my specific garden environment, and it seems to be doing just fine since it managed to survive the weeds, weather, and animals all on its own. The biggest heads were cured and stored for cooking, and I pulled out the smallish heads of garlic to ferment into pickled garlic.

I am a big fan of what I call "real pickles", which means that no vinegar is used, just brine and vegetables, and they get bubbly and fermented before being refrigerated. This is technically lacto-fermentation. It's the same way sauerkraut and kimchi are made. Ideally, it would be done in a crock with a weight on top to keep the garlic submerged and away from oxygen, but this is such a small batch I just stuck it in a jar. If the garlic had started to floated, I would have found something to weigh it down.

First I separated out a bunch of cloves. Aren't they pretty?

I prepared a clean glass jar with some herbs for a little extra flavor. They are pretty random, based on what I know I like and what I had around: fresh cilantro, a little fresh ginger root, mustard seeds, and black pepper.

I peeled all the cloves and added them to the jar, then covered them in a brine made with 3 tbsp sea salt to a quart of well water.

Then I covered the jar with butter muslin and let it sit for 1-2 weeks at room temperature before capping it and moving it to the refrigerator. I've been using it to cook with for some extra flavor, it did really well in a thai curry last week.

Fall update: I found even more volunteer garlic that I missed back in july now that it's starting to sprout again and all the weeds have been eaten down by the goats. If a head of garlic is left in the ground, the entire thing will sprout, like so:

You can see the dead center stalk of the head poking up in the middle. It was cut short, so it was probably hidden by tall weeds and I scythed it without noticing.  I carefully and gently separated the heads that I found and have been transplanting them into freshly turned 50 ft rows. 

This is a total experiment since I've read very conflicting things about transplanting garlic, but it's not costing me anything but time and if it works....well, at last count I had at least 250+ transplants. Most of what I've read says that garlic hates being transplanted, especially in the fall, but then there's the occasional person reporting that their transplanted garlic did as well as or better then planted cloves. My hope is that they will get over the transplant shock before really cold weather hits, and then they can spend all spring and summer putting their energy into growing bulbs. If this garlic survived and thrived in unhospitable conditions, it should perform even better in tilled, composted, mulched rows, right? Fingers crossed!