I stopped to grab some gladiolas from my old friend Herman’s roadside stand. It’s the thought that counts, and three stalks for $5 was a great bargain for a happy wife. There, on the table next to the stand rested fresh garlic. I had never seen such beautiful garlic.
Not the shriveled, white dried out stuff from the grocery story but pungent, purplish bulbs almost the size of a billiard balls, with stalks still attached.
My favorite vegetable in more glory than I had ever seen. Suddenly, I heard a buzzer ring.
“I’ll be right there, ma” Herman said as he rose from the old couch on his front porch to head inside.
On my last visit, he’d told me it was OK to wander around his half-acre garden.
“You might learn something” Herman had said.
He was 85, walked with a spade for a cane and lived to care for his garden and his loving wife who was immobilized by physical ailments and lost in a sea of dementia.
I wrapped the flower stalks in paper towels, knotted a shopping bag around the base and tossed them on the front seat of my truck with the garlic and headed home. Herman was nowhere to be found.
Two days later, as I headed to the North Tonawanda City Market, I stopped again. Looking across the garden I spied Herman leaning on his trusty shovel.
I wandered toward him. He eyed me suspiciously. A smile came to his face.
“You’re the fella from the newspaper,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a minute to remember. Glad you came back.”
“Herman,” I said, “I bought some of your garlic the other day. Why is it so different.”
“It’s because I know how to grow it.
“You need to start with good seed stock – something grown around here is best. Mine is rocambole. They call the good kinds for the north ‘hard neck’. Plant it late in the summer or early in the fall. When it throws up a flower stalk in May or June, pick it off. Some people think its better eating the stalks than the bulb.
“Late July or mid August, the leaves will start to dry off. That’s Harvest time. That’s about it.”
“What else do I need to do,” I asked.
“After you dig the bulbs, let them dry for a few weeks, out of the sun, in the air. One other thing – leave your healthiest few bulbs in the ground. They will keep growing and separating and then you can dig them up later and use them for next year’s crop.”
“What about fertilizer?” I asked.
“Just add some organic matter, like the rest of your garden. No different, and be careful to keep the weeds down. Garlic doesn’t compete well. Help me pull some weeds and I’ll give you some seed.”
That was it. An hour later, I’d pulled oodles of creeping charlie from his tomatoes and was on my way with a quart of individual cloves. I’ve been successfully growing garlic from that stock ever since. The important thing in our zone five climate is to be certain to start with good seed stock – the dried out mass-produced garlic from the grocery store gives poor results, at least in Western New York.
And those seed heads – they call them “scapes” have become a favorite treat when in season. They even sell them at the farm market in town now.
(Joe Genco is a struggling gardener and recovering journalist who works as a financial advisor in Clarence, NY. You can reach him at email@example.com)
About the Author
Joe Genco is a struggling gardener and recovering journalist who works as a financial advisor in Clarence, NY and a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club.