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Rescuing The Garlic

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

Please believe me when I say that I am trying hard not to write constantly about the weather.  In my last post, which was about the Pope and women\’s issues, I don\’t believe I mentioned the weather once.

But now I have to bring up the weather again, because it is wreaking havoc with farmers and gardeners in this newly-annexed province of Brazil, formerly known as Vermont.

So far it hasn\’t rained today, and it didn\’t rain yesterday, but before that we had the wettest, hottest succession of days–nineteen of them–ever recorded in the state.

Plants are dying because the ground is so water-logged that no oxygen can get to their roots.  Farmers cannot cut hay because it has no chance to dry–the grass in our fields is up to my shoulders–and people with livestock are worried about finding enough hay to last the winter.

I thought that my high garden beds would provide good drainage for the vegetables, but I decided to take advantage of a single day of respite from the heat and humidity to check on the garlic crop.  I had never planted garlic before last fall, and the instruction sheet from the ladies who sold me the seed bulbs said not to harvest until mid-July.  But I thought I\’d better take a look.

I pulled on one of the stems and, to my dismay, it came off in my hand.  The end where it was supposed to be attached to the head looked like it had sort of dissolved.  I got my shovel and plunged it into the mud and the entire bulb came up…as did a cloud of the most pestilential stench I have ever smelled in a garden.  Next to it, chicken, goat, and probably even pig manure are as nothing.  Rotten garlic is deadly to the nose.

If I wanted to save the crop, I needed to act quickly.  But the ground was so sodden, so clingy and heavy that it took a huge effort to pry out the heads with the shovel.  Fortunately not all the bulbs had rotted, though enough of them had to keep me breathing through my mouth.

An hour later, I had extracted over eighty bulbs.  Some were tiny–they should have stayed in the ground another couple of weeks–but most were a reasonable size.  All were encased in mud.  I left them out overnight and the next day spent a couple of hours brushing off the dirt.

I dearly love a garlic braid.  I\’d always found it endearing that people would want to make something decorative out of this most prosaic of vegetables.  And I fantasized that, if I ever managed to grow some garlic, I would make it into a nice fat braid and give it pride of place in my kitchen.

Unfortunately, the only garlic that grows in cold climates is the \”hard neck\” kind, which means that the stem is too stiff and inflexible to be braided.  So I merely bunched my garlics in groups of ten or so, bound them with twine, and hung them in the shed to dry.  They don\’t look the least bit decorative, but I hope the flavor will be good.

The way the climate is changing, in another couple of years the winters will be warm enough to grow the soft-neck varieties right here in Vermont.  The snow will be gone, and kudzu will cover the landscape, but at least I\’ll be able to make garlic braids.

6 Responses

  1. I should try to grow garlic when we finally have the raised beds my husband promised me a couple of years ago.Question — do I correctly remember you mentioning kudzu in relation to Maryland in another post? I don't think it grows here — and I was going to comment on that when I (thought I) saw it, but never did.

  2. I do remember kudzu in Maryland. I just googled it and one site said that it has spread as far north as Massachusetts and Illinois.I'm sure you can grow soft-neck garlic in DC, so you'll be able to make braids!

  3. It's nice that not all of your garlic rotted, but too bad that some of it was so small. I am a great garlic lover myself and am always looking for excuses to put it in any kind of dish, whether it was intended to or not. I also want to put in more than a recipe calls for, but do realize that it can be too overwhelming. I used to live not too far away from Gilroy, California, the garlic capitol of the world, and it always smelled very good there when we drove through it.

  4. I went to the garlic festival in Bennington, Vermont, last fall. It was full of different kinds of garlic–described in terms similar to those used to describe wine–as well as lots of garlic \”art.\” Smelled good, too.

  5. I grow Osage garlic in my yard. It is best as a biennial. Also a hardneck, I fins that second year bulbs are giant, purple skinned and lovely. First year bulbs are skimpy but same flavor. Hardneck doesn't last as long in my experience so I peel and freeze a lot of cloves. I am harvesting this week. Osage is a Missouri-friendly variety and now grows wild in my yard. I cut half the scapes each year, let the other half go to seed to replant for following years. So easy. And Yummy. I've never had any rot, but my summers are hot and dry and I don't water much…

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