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Flash in the Pan

This week: how, when, and why to plant garlic

—Ari LeVaux

How to never buy garlic

I haven’t bought garlic since 1996. That’s because I grow enough to eat a bulb of garlic every day, year ‘round. While most of my garden adventures are hobby-level attempts at self-sufficiency, my garlic crop is for real.

Garlic is an overwintering crop, planted in fall and harvested mid-summer. So if you want to have a crop next year, it’s time to think about planting.

A year’s supply of garlic hanging in your garage hints at many great meals to come, but by the time you reach that milestone, the rewards have already been flowing for months. Your first return arrives in early spring, when your garlic races out of the ground. It’s a foot tall when your neighbors’ gardens are still empty brown patches.

As spring continues, your plants will continue to skyrocket, and in late May—assuming you planted a flowering variety—you’ll be treated to a funky display of garlic blossoms curling from the plant tops. These should be harvested and enjoyed, both because they’re tasty and because not harvesting the flowers will result in smaller bulbs.

The flowering varieties of garlic are collectively called hardnecks, so named because of their woody flowering stalks. Hardneck garlic generally has better flavor, peels easier, and has larger and more uniform cloves, but most large producers grow softneck garlic, which is what you’re more likely to find at the store. Softneck garlic is less labor-intensive to produce, because there are none of those pesky and delicious flowers to harvest in spring. To home gardeners, those flowers are more asset than liability, and yet another reason hardneck garlic is better suited to the garden.

The first step in growing your own garlic stash is getting your paws on some good garlic for planting. Seed garlic, marketed expressly for planting, is available from nurseries, seed catalogs, and online, but there’s negligible difference between that and any other garlic you’ll find. The only advantage to buying seed garlic, which is considerably more expensive, is that you can choose your variety, and efforts have been made to ensure that it’s disease-free.

While commercial growers have good financial reason to be wary of crop diseases, the chances of backyard garlic getting sick are low enough, and the consequences non-dire enough, that paying for certified disease-free seed isn’t worth it. Planting the right variety, on the other hand, is extremely important. But that doesn’t mean you should purchase seed garlic.

You must find a variety suited to your home region, and the obvious way to acquire such a variety is to buy high-grade locally grown garlic—which obviously grows well where you live. A great option is the farmers market, where growers will be able to tell you the conditions in which their garlic grew, and will probably be able to tell you what kind it is.

In addition to being a stickler for hardneck garlic, I also look for large bulb size, peelability, and a minimum of cloves per bulb. Fewer cloves mean bigger cloves, and there’s nothing more annoying than dinky little hard-to-peel cloves. My variety of choice, a hardneck called Romanian Red, is a dream. The clove-to-bulb ratio is small, so even small bulbs have large cloves. Each rose-hued clove peels like a prom dress and delivers great flavor. Most importantly, it grows well where I live.

In addition to determining which garlic you want to grow, you’ll need to calculate how much you need to plant to get the size crop you want—enough to eat, plus enough to plant next fall. This calculation is a bit tricky.

My high school algebra finally came in handy when it came to figuring how many bulbs to plant in order to generate a self-sustaining garlic crop. I devised an equation in which “x” is the number of bulbs one needs to plant.

To solve for x, you need the following values:

y = the average number of cloves per bulb of the variety of garlic you’re planting. In my case, Romanian Red averages five cloves per bulb, so y = 5.

z = the number of bulbs you want for eating (in my case, z = 365, or one bulb per day).

The equation is: x = z/(y-1).

In my case, x = 365/(5-1), or 91.25, which I round up to 92. Working backwards to check my math: 92 bulbs contain 460 cloves, each of which will grow into a bulb. If I harvest 460 bulbs, and subtract the 365 bulbs I intend to eat, I’m left with 95 bulbs for planting next year. The extra three bulbs, a bonus, are the result of rounding up from 91.25.

Now for the easy part: planting the garlic. Garlic is generally planted in October or November. It’s a heavy feeder, so you want good dirt with plenty of organic material and nitrogen. Carefully break the bulbs into individual cloves, leaving the peel on and making sure the little scabby plate at the bottom of each clove remains intact. Plant the cloves with the scabby side down, an inch deep, six inches apart, in rows. Then mulch your patch with straw—not hay—about an inch deep. The mulch will keep your garlic warm in the winter and help the soil retain moisture. Come spring, the young garlic will poke through the mulch, and then it’s off to the races. Make sure to keep it well-watered. When the leaves start turning brown, despite your dedicated watering, it’s time to harvest.

Entire books have been written on this subject, so if you’re serious about investing your time, money, and land into a big garlic crop, you might want to consult a more in-depth source. I recommend Growing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland.

In the meantime, hit the farmers market, get some seed, and get planting. The thought of those roots spreading under the mulch will help get you through the winter.

Ari LeVaux lives in Placitas where he writes his nationally syndicated column Flash in the Pan.

Tamaya Chips & Salsa

A new and exciting way to experience chips and salsa 

To celebrate the beginning of the fall harvest season, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya will be featuring three unique salsas in its Rio Grande Lounge.

While each salsa is available at the resort, the recipes are easy enough to make at home. The ingredients can be found in most kitchens or can be obtained at the neighborhood supermarket. Whether or not you are entertaining company or have a taste for spicy food, these salsas are sure to entertain your palate.

House Salsa

(1) 26 ounce can whole tomatoes, in juice
(2) 26 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
4 large yellow onions, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, pureed
(1) 4 ounce can pickled jalapeno peppers
1 bunch cilantro
4 ounces lemon juice
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste

Drain whole tomatoes; reserve juice. Place whole tomatoes, yellow onions, and garlic in baking pan, toss lightly in vegetable oil. Char under broiler until top is black. Cool.

In a blender, puree whole tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalapenos, cilantro, and chipotles until smooth. Add crushed tomatoes, lemon juice, and seasonings.

Tomatillo Salsa

2 pounds tomatillos, peeled and washed
4 large yellow onions, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno pepper, fresh, whole
2 poblano peppers, seeded and trimmed
1 bunch cilantro
4 ounces lime juice
4 ounces water
1 ounce honey
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place tomatillos, onions, garlic, jalapeno, and poblanos in baking pan; toss lightly in vegetable oil. Char under broiler until black. Cool. In a blender, puree roasted ingredients with cilantro, lime juice, water, honey, and seasonings.

Roasted Ancho Salsa

16 ounces house salsa
2 tablespoons 5 chile blend (see recipe
5 Chile Blend
1/2 pound dried ancho chiles, toasted and seeded
1/2 pound dried cascabel chiles, toasted and seeded
1/2 pound dried guajillo chiles, toasted and seeded
1/2 pound dried pasilla chiles, toasted and seeded
1/2 pound dried chimayo chiles, toasted and seeded
1/4 cup kosher salt

Blend all chiles in a food processor until ground; add salt.






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