A TATTERED AND FADED PAINTED LADY languishes atop the spent head of a sunflower, her shabby wings forecasting the winter to be and reminding me it is time to plant the garlic collection.
Over the years I have collected a wide variety of garlics from around the world. Most of us are familiar with the white, multiclove type, commonly found in grocery stores. But delve into garlic culture and you will find a diverse, tasty collection with exotic names like "Persian Star," "Chesnok Red," "Nootka Rose" or "Cuban Purple." Their cloves can be fiery and fat, tinged purple or snow-white, papery and mild. They make "California White," the garlic that has made Gilroy famous, a total bore.
Garlic is divided into two categories, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck types form a flower stalk in the summer. They tend to produce large heads with few, four to seven, large, easy-to-peel cloves. Hardneck garlics are not braidable because of the stiff flower stalk. Bulbs store from six to eight months. Hardnecks are further divided into varieties called purple striped, porcelain and rocambole. The difference between the three involve clove color, size and flavor, as well as how the flower stalk behaves once it emerges. For instance, rocambole flower stalks tend to form tight coils once they emerge. "German Red, "Spanish Roja" and "Georgian Fire" are hardneck varieties that do well on the North Coast.
Softneck garlic like "California White" are the types you can easily braid. They have numerous cloves with layers of papery-white skins. They store much longer than hard necks, up to a year.
Flower stalks are rare with softneck garlic. A cross section of a typical softneck garlic will reveal several large outer cloves with a cluster of smaller cloves inside.
Softneck garlic is divided into two categories, artichoke and silverskin. Artichoke garlic gets its name from the way cloves overlap each other, much like an artichoke head. They produce many mild-flavored cloves. Silverskin garlics tend to be the best for braiding and last up to a year with proper storage. "Chinese Pink," "Oregon Blue" and "Italian Late" are good softneck garlics.
The jumbo garlic commonly called elephant garlic is not true garlic. Technically it is an enormous bulbing leek.
Garlic is a heavy feeder, so it is essential to thoroughly prepare the soil prior to planting. Adding generous amounts of garden compost and chicken manure at planting time will assure fat, juicy cloves. Adding bone meal, 12-12-12 or other natural fertilizers like bloodmeal, kelp, bat guano and seaweed extract is essential at planting time. Don't bother planting garlic if you are not planning to spend time and money on soil improvement.
Planting the largest cloves assures large heads at harvest. Avoid scrawny cloves. Plant the scarred end down, 1 to 2 inches deep. Space cloves 6 to 8 inches apart. Mulch with a mixture of chicken manure and garden compost.
Feed in early spring. In February or early March feed with a high phosphorous fertilizer and mulch with chicken manure. Do not add any supplemental fertilizer after March. Keep plants well-watered throughout late spring and early summer. Taper off watering when tips of lower leaves begin to turn brown. Snap off seed heads of hard necks within a week after they emerge. You want the plants to put energy into bulbs, not seed.
Keep garlic weed free. From winter when first weeds sprout up until summer harvest garlic should be totally weed free. Weeds rob nutrients from the soil, making the bulbs smaller.
Harvest garlic when 60 percent of the leaves have turned brown. Upper leaves will still be green. Brush soil from heads, leaving green stalks intact. Hang in clusters of five to seven to dry.
Allow garlic to cure in a warm, shaded area where there is plenty of air circulation. When garlic has cured, about three weeks for warm inland areas, six weeks or more on the foggy coast, trim off roots and cut necks to one-half inch length.
Store in netted onion bags in a cool, dark and dry place. Temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees F. are best. Consume hardnecks first, since they do not last as long as softneck varieties.
A and L Feed Store, McKinleyville features a locally grown Portuguese garlic.
Fortuna Nursery, "California Silver Rose."
Greenlot Nursery, Cutten, Italian hardneck locally grown.
Mad River Gardens, Arcata "Italian Late," "German Red" and "Chinese Pink."
Miller Farms, McKinleyville, variety unknown.
Pierson's Garden Shop, Eureka, a white softneck, name unknown.
Sherwood Forest Nursery, Eureka, "California Giant."
Sylvandale Gardens, Phillipsville, "Montana Giant," "California Giant," "Romanian Red" and "Western Rose."
MAIL ORDER SOURCES:
Filaree Farm, 182 Conconully Hwy., Okanogan WA 98840 email: firstname.lastname@example.org Online at www.filareefarm.com. Features over 100 varieties of hardneck and softneck garlic from around the world.
Territorial Seed Company, P.O. Box 157, Cottage Grove, OR 97424-0061 (514) 942-9547, Fax: (888) 657-3131. Online Orders: www. territorial-seed.com. Offers 23 varieties of hardneck and softneck garlic.