The Green Beet: Garlic goof good for gourmets

By Jen Ransom, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Jen Ransom. This freshly mulched bed had to be ripped up in order to collect the improperly planted garlic underneath.

Each spring, I try to grow something I haven’t experimented with before. Sometimes it is successful, such as the kalrabi last season, and sometimes it is a complete failure, such as the tomatoes I attempted to grow inside two seasons ago. (As my dad would say, there was a “fungus among us.”)

This year, after reading several authors rave about how great it is to grow your own garlic and confirming at a few garden-friendly functions that it does grow well in Alaska, I decided this delicious, ever-present-in-most-of-my-cooking bulb would be my new crop for 2011. While you can plant in the fall for earlier garlic, spring planting supposedly works as well.

Excited that I could get it in the ground early I picked up some seed garlic at a local greenhouse and went to work. Because I was also planting gladiola bulbs at the same time, I decided to plant the garlic at the end of the same bed. It was suggested to me that if you were only planting a small amount, plant the garlic in groups of three so you would remember where you planted it come fall. Thinking how that worked well, as I had purchased two packages of three bulbs apiece, I dug some holes, added in some manure for feed, and plunked the bulbs in alongside the gladiolas. Easy and done in a few minutes. I then carefully mulched over with wet newsprint and last fall’s bark from woodcutting for ease on the eyes and the weeds.

Three days later, at about 11 p.m. in the evening, I had an “oops” realization moment. I planted the entire bulb head of garlic, the exact thing I was trying to grow. It had entered my mind for a brief moment that $4.95 for three bulbs seemed a little steep, and I did wonder briefly how these formed bulbs would create several more. But then mommy brain went back to sleep and I continued to enjoy the simplicity of digging in the dirt.

Upon my uh-oh moment, I got out of bed, went to one of my reference books and read the directions for planting garlic again. There it was, in plain English, “Gently break the bulbs into individual cloves.”

I was no longer planting a small test run of garlic anymore. I needed to dig up the bulbs and find space to grow an entire crop of garlic. Good thing everyone in my family enjoys my cooking with it. I guess it dries well — and it’s not like you can’t give away good garlic as gifts.

The next day, with my daughter and her little friend who was visiting for the day, I carefully pulled back the newspaper/bark mulch and dug up the garlic. I am happy to report that they were already starting to show a little green, so the whole plant-in-the-spring thing seems to be working thus far. I replanted a few at the end of that bed, spaced 4 inches apart, and then began searching for unclaimed space in my garden for the rest.

Half of my baby perennial bed — a well-protected bed where I let small, purchased perennial plants and small splits from friend’s perennials grow until they are ready to be moved into the regular garden — is now filled with garlic. One of my flowerpots for the front has garlic growing in it.

To grow garlic for food, it is recommended to cut the long, center stem that grows and forms a bud for flowering. This way more energy goes into creating the bulb instead of the flower. I figure I’ll leave the flower in the potted garlic. I am curious to see what a garlic flower looks like anyway. Several cloves went into a baggy for my daughter’s friend, since he really wanted to plant some for his dad, who is away commercial fishing, to cook with when he gets home. The rest went in the backside of my completed compost pile, slated for a few zucchini plants when it gets a little warmer. The two go well when cooking, so I figured I would try growing them together, too. I have no idea if they pair well together, but I was desperate. All in all, I went from expecting six garlic plants to more than 60.

The Green Beet explores environmentally friendly, economical and often quirky ways to enjoy Alaska’s gardening and gathering season, while showcasing columnist and life-long Alaskan Jen Ransom’s gardening wins and failures as she tries each season to grow a proper green thumb.


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