Why Garlic Is the Favorite Crop Our Favorite Farmers Grow
This week, it's time to harvest a certain allium.
This past weekend, we finished our annual garlic harvest. This is a celebratory moment on the farm because garlic is possibly our favorite crop to grow. We adore garlic so much we named our farm after it (from the old saying, ‘Garlic is as good as ten mothers,' and also from the brilliant Les Blank film of the same name). Every day of the year, we chop garlic to season a skillet of greens or a pot of beans or we pound it into a paste for salad dressing, pesto, and aioli. When we're feeling under the weather, we take a swig of garlicky fire cider or thinly slice a clove and eat it raw on toast with olive oil and salt. Garlic is full of flavor and magic: it turns water into broth, it brings us back to good health, and some say it wards off mosquitoes (and vampires!). As the last crop to go in the ground each fall and the first crop planted for the coming season, garlic faithfully carries us over from one farm year to the next.
Each year, in late October, we invite our CSA members out to the farm to plant garlic and share a meal. We gently divide heads of garlic into individual cloves. These cloves, with their skin on, are what you plant instead of a seed. Have you ever noticed the little green shoot inside a clove of garlic in late fall? Incredibly, even after you harvest it, garlic remains alive. Working together, we push the cloves down into the soil, and before long, a year's worth of garlic is planted. All winter, the garlic grows slowly and steadily. On the coldest nights, we cover it with row cover. In mid-spring, the tender green garlic is ready to eat. By early June, we watch for the green leaves to turn golden and hope for a dry spell for harvest.
Last week, we wrestled the mature garlic bulbs from the heavy clay and brought them to the barn to cure-that means to form its protective layer of dry skin. In dry places like California, where most grocery-store garlic is grown, garlic just cures in the ground and waits for someone to come along and pick it. In humid North Carolina, we hang each bulb individually, watch them carefully for weeks, turn on huge air-blowing fans if necessary, and cross our fingers. If the garlic doesn't dry down fully, then much of it will rot, and all that work will be for nothing. If the garlic does cure successfully, then we'll have pesto and aioli through the fall and well into the winter.
Two weeks from now, if all goes well, the garlic will be cured and we'll start packing it in CSA shares. We'll save the best heads for ‘seed' cloves, to plant again in late October. And so the Ten Mothers Farm garlic tradition continues!
Follow Vera and Gordon's growing season-they'll be sharing their stories with us every Thursday here on marthastewart.com.