By Elizabeth Joseph, garden and education coordinator at Heifer Farm
July 2009 – I am 23 years old and a garden apprentice at Heifer Farm in Rutland, Massachusetts. The day camp kids are helping us harvest garlic — giggling as they get their hands dirty and thrilled each time a bulb surfaces from below the ground. The garden crew and I are over the moon to have help harvesting the 6,000 bulbs growing in long, straight rows before us. One of our youngest campers tugs on a bulb, pulls it from the earth and shows it off, long leaves dangling above his head. “This garlic has tentacles, like an octopus!” he exclaims.
Seven seasons later, we’re still planting a variety of garlic that’s been cultivated here at Heifer Farm for more than two decades, and the day campers still help us at harvest time. It’s a favorite vegetable (herb, condiment, aromatic, whatever you want to call it!) here in our kitchen because of how much
flavor it imparts to each dish.
Garlic (Allium sativium) is native to central Asia and is adaptable to many climates and growing conditions. It is a member of the Allium family — alongside onions, shallots, leeks, scallions and chives—crops that are known for their flavor, aroma and medicinal properties, not to mention magical
lore. Vampire repellant, anyone?
Garlic is a bulb with several smaller bulbs, or cloves, contained inside a protective wrapper. These cloves are genetic clones of their parents, and act as seeds come planting time, which, like for many bulbs, is in the fall about four to six weeks before the ground freezes. During the weeks after planting, garlic begins root growth before going through a period of rest in the cooler months. Come springtime, the leaves emerge above ground and continue growing until harvest time in late summer.
Softneck varieties generally store better and have more cloves per bulb. The cloves form in a swirl reminiscent of an artichoke.
Hardneck varieties have a woody central stalk and produce an edible curled flower stalk called a scape.
Elephant garlic is not garlic at all, but a leek!
At Heifer Farm, we plant garlic the first week in November in beds that are three feet wide with four rows in the bed. Cloves are planted pointy side facing up at 2-inch depth and 6-inch spacing. Our saved seed variety is dubbed Overlook Red because of its purple hues. (Heifer Farm used to be called Overlook Farm.) We mulch over the garlic beds with straw or hay to prevent frost or freeze damage.
After harvest, our sugar house where we make maple syrup in the winter is converted to a drying shed, and the bulbs are cured for a few weeks. Then we sort for quality, putting the best heads aside for seed stock. We trim the stalk and roots and pack the heads into crates in the root cellar. We also preserve some of the garlic by dehydrating it into garlic powder and making infused oils and vinegars, all of which gets used in our farm-to-table soups, stir fries, salads, slaws and other savory sensations!
In addition to adding incredible flavor to dishes, garlic is prized for its healing qualities and as preventative medicine. Garlic is said to lower cholesterol, reduce hypertension and shorten or prevent the common cold. Proponents of garlic’s medicinal merit say to crush, chop or chew the clove to release the sulfur compound allicin to achieve best results. You can also buy garlic in capsule form if you’re worried about its odiferous qualities, but after making an aioli of roasted garlic, parsley and parmesan cheese and spreading it over a hearty, crusty bread, I suspect any and all misgivings will vanish!
Speaking of vanishing… goodbye, vampires! Hello, flavor and health!
Roadsted Green Beans with Garlic
• 2 lbs fresh green beans, cleaned and trimmed
• 2-4 cloves of garlic
• Olive oil for drizzling
• 1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine green beans and garlic and drizzle with oil. Massage until all beans are coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in single layer on sheet pan and cook 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once. Cook until beans are shriveled and tender.
Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, carrots, potatoes and asparagus can be substituted.