Garden Journal: Too Early for Green Garlic
“One of the singular characteristics of garlic is that it makes you wait.”
Stanley Crawford, A Garlic Testament, 1992
This afternoon, we pulled some garlic. It was ripped so untimely from the cool soil that we could nearly hear it shriek. It certainly wasn’t ready to come up: Though its green shoots were vigorous, the clove from which they sprang was immature, just a little fuller and fatter than when it was planted a few months ago. It hadn’t become a bulb, but already its smell was sharp and strong.
There are six types of garlic and many varieties, some of which have multiple aliases. Last fall, on a cool November afternoon, after clearing away the brown stems of the wine-dark Arabian Nights dahlias, we planted four of them in the herb garden:
Music, a popular, intensely flavored porcelain hardneck, good for baking;
Inchilium Red, an artichoke-type softneck which produces large bulbs with 12 to 20 mild-tasting cloves, recommended for salsa;
Morado Gigante, a Chilean turban-type with deep burgundy “wrappers”and a smooth flavor;
Guatemalan Purple Stripe, a nutty-tasting hardneck from the village of Aguacatan near Hueheutenango, a god-forsaken dusty Guatemalan outpost we actually visited many years ago.
As Stanley Crawford writes in his cult classic, A Garlic Testament, it takes seven to nine months for garlic to mature: “It follows that you ought not to grow garlic unless you are willing to let it make you as patient as it needs for its purposes….It has no other way but the long wash of time to extract the sulfur compounds from the soil and to distill them into its distinctive potion…”
The Music shoots that we pulled are the very earliest form of “green garlic”—immature garlic that hasn’t yet begun to form cloves. We could have sliced and stir fried them with baby bok choy, or mixed them into scrambled eggs, but we decided to be kind.
The little bulblet was tucked back into the soil, to sleep, perchance to dream of bigger things.
Editor’s note: Our seed garlic came from Cornerstone Garlic Farm outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. Natalie Foster and her husband Steve have a website with excellent photos and descriptions of the garlic they grow. Go to www.localharvest.org/listing.jsp?id=6792.
To read what may be the most poetic farming book ever written, see Stanley Crawford, A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm, University of New Mexico Press, 1992. Crawford is a novelist whose other books include Petroleum Man and Gascoyne.