Over a ten day period last month, we planted somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,300 cloves of seed garlic. The seed came from garlic we had saved from this year's harvests.
Garlic hanging up to cure, July
Garlic was the first thing we planted here on our land -- even before we had a place to live, we planted garlic. Ever since then, the garlic-growing space in the garden has been expanding every year. If I could only grow one thing, it would be a close competition between garlic and greens. I would guess that our household consumes somewhere between 300 and 500 heads of garlic per year, and the rest we sell, trade, and give to friends and family.
Garlic is easy to grow: we plant ours in October and mulch heavily with straw, and then there is nothing to do until harvest time in June or early July. It is one of the easiest crops for seed-saving, too: there is no cross-pollination to worry about, and saving and re-planting year after year will help fine-tune the variety to your particular growing conditions.
For the past four years we've been growing garlic in large quantities, and we've had a chance to see what varieties do well across a broad range of conditions, from long, hot droughts to humid, rain-soaked years like this one. The garlic varieties we're growing now are ones that have excelled in both drought years and wet years, and consistently produced tasty, beautiful heads of garlic.
Here are the ten tried-and-true varieties we're growing, in no particular order:
Killarney Red: Consistently the biggest, fattest, prettiest heads of garlic coming from our garden. Great, strong, classic garlic flavor. This variety is a hardneck rocambole, producing lovely scapes for spring eating.
Inchelium Red: My favorite garlic in the kitchen, bursting with huge, spicy cloves. Inchelium Red rivals "elephant garlic" in clove and head size, but the with the fabulous taste of true garlic. This variety apparently originated on the Colville Indian Reservation in Inchelium, Washington.
Chesnok Red This is an heirloom "Purple Stripe" variety from the Republic of Georgia that produces fat bulbs that are great for baking. It has been a great producer for us year after year, and also makes gorgeous and tasty curly scapes in springtime.
Georgian Crystal: A relatively long-storing porcelain variety with a mild taste and pretty, fat cloves.
Polish Hardneck: Another excellent porcelain strain. Filaree Farm, where we bought the seed garlic that beget our seed garlic, says that porcelains are "still relatively rare in North America, but are becoming much sought after as gardeners and garlic connoisseurs learn of their unique properties." What I like about the porcelains is that they have the fat cloves of the rocamboles but a longer storage life. Porcelain heads sometimes only have three or four cloves, but the cloves will be large and juicy, even months after harvest.
Silverwhite Silverskin: A svelte, spotless white, long-keeping garlic. Silverwhite's taste is less robust than some, but still sharp and garlicky. And the best thing about this variety: heads will last well into the winter months when stored in a cool, dry place. Silverwhite is an impressive keeper that helps spread garlic flavor throughout the year in our kitchen.
Nootka Rose: Another long-keeping silverskin variety. Nootka Rose is an heirloom from the Pacific Northwest with gorgeous red-streaked clove skins and great flavor. This variety and Silverwhite outlast all other garlics in terms of storage life, keeping for many months.
Idaho Silver: A lovely to look upon silverskin with creamy white bulb skin and pinkish red cloves. Keeps well and has a strong, hot flavor.
Spanish Roja: A pre-1900 heirloom rocambole garlic with great taste and fat cloves that seems to do well in our climate.
Siberian Marbled Purple Stripe: A flamboyant garlic with a giant head, thick purple stripes, and marbled and mottled purpley bulb wrappers. If that's not enough, Siberian Marbled Purple Stripe boasts a rich, deep garlicky taste and smooth texture.
As we planted, we set aside the cloves too small for planting, and I made pot after pot of garlic broth, a perfect base for miso soup at this time of year. You can just throw handfuls of whole cloves, skin and all, in a big soup pot with lots of water and simmer for a few hours until you have a super-garlicky broth, and then strain off the cloves. Or you can peel the garlic first, which allows you to incorporate the soft, mild, whole garlic cloves into the soup. Add some fresh grated ginger and finely chopped multiplier onions from the garden, and you have a fabulous warming, fortifying, immune-boosting fall tonic soup. I credit garlic miso with our avoidance of H1N1 infection so far. . .knock on wood.