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Monday, October 11, 2010

Italian Hardneck Garlic

We're planting our garlic on the rooftop today.

The garlic we're planting is from one of the farms that the co-op buys from- Nichol's Farm and Orchard in Marengo, IL. The garlic is a hardneck variety that was given to the owner of the farm 20 years ago by "some italian guy". They don't know the name of the variety, but the quality of the garlic is amazing. The cloves are fat and succulent, very spicy and juicy. Quite like what garlic should be.

Garlic is planted in the fall. The head of garlic is broken up into cloves, each will become a new garlic plant. The larger the clove, the larger next year's head. The cloves are planted 2-3 inches below the soil, where the chill, moist dirt initiates chemical reactions in the clove to begin growing again. The garlic pushes out of the ground to begin growing again. When it gets too cold, the garlic dies back and goes dormant for the frozen winter. We mulch over top of the garlic to keep it a bit more protected.

The latin name for hardneck garlic, Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon, tells you a lot about how the plant grows. Garlic is in the allium family, and is related to all onions, shallots, chives, and scallions. This family produces long, flat, lance-shaped leaves with parallel veins, usually in the spring and early summer. The results from the summer's photosynthesis are stored underground in a sulfur-rich bulb for next year's growth.

The garlic sprouts again in the early spring, sending out a false flower 'scape' in late May and early June. Growers trim off the scape to encourage larger bulb production. The scape is also known as 'green garlic', and is a delicacy of early summer that whets our appetite for the garlic to come later in the season.

If the scape isn't trimmed off, the fleshy white part will develop into a fluffy round white or purple flower. The flowers, after pollination, will develop into heavy bulbils (think very small cloves of garlic) that droop to the ground. Once in contact with the dirt, the bulbils send out roots and begin to grow next year's round of garlic.

The leaves die back mid-July, siphoning the rest of the plants nutrients down into the bulb for next year. Here the mature garlic heads are pulled from the ground for eating, as they are at their largest. They are tied or braided together for a few weeks of curing- hung in an airy and dry place to develop thick dry skins for longer storage.

Part of the harvested heads are planted again for next year, and part stored or processed for winter and spring eating.

The medicinal properties of fresh garlic are intense-anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal. It's compound allicin is reputed to have properties of a weak penicillin, yet the body does not build up a tolerance to it, so using it copiously and often is perfectly fine. It's a great body and blood tonic, keeps away mosquitoes and vampires, and meshes with other food flavors perfectly.

Yum. go plant some garlic!

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