It has always been my intention to give a mid-winter garlic growing update, and I thought it would say something like this. “This time of year the garlic does not need our attention. It is dormant in the ground waiting for temperatures to warm so it can resume it’s growth cycle.” That is the way it should be.
Unfortunately, at least a far as growing garlic is concerned, we are not experiencing a normal Michigan winter where temperatures are below freezing and precipitation comes in the form of snow and stays on the ground until the warmth and sunshine of spring melts it away. Winter started out with good snowfalls coming before Christmas. In early January we had some days of single digit temperatures and wind-chills even lower, and while we were uncomfortable, I had no concerns about the garlic. Then the weather changed, we started getting warmer days. Any snow that had accumulated melted, and any precipitation that we have gotten has come in the form of rain or freezing rain. In the past 10 days our daytime high temperatures have been above freezing and nighttime lows have only been at the freezing point on a few of those days. The sunshine has been scarce, most of the days the sky has been gray or the fog has been so thick that, even though it is not recorded as precipitation, it is certainly adding moisture to the environment. As a result the ground has been wet and muddy.
Earlier this week when we noticed water sitting on top of the ground in the isles between the garlic rows we decided to check the condition of the garlic field. It was distressing to find that the ground was completely saturated. Stepping in the garlic field resulted in sinking well above our ankles in the mud. We had great concerns about the garlic being so wet. Can it tolerate these conditions and if so for how long? At that point we cleared the drainage routes so more water was able to run off, and we prayed that we did not lose the crop. We were encouraged when my husband pushed back some of the straw mulch and saw some green garlic shoots. A least at this point those plants are still alive.
Yesterday’s mix of rain and snow did not help matters any, but I am encouraged when I look at our 10 day forecast that shows temperatures, beginning today, only getting as high as the freezing mark on most days. I believe what we really need right now is for the ground to freeze, for the sun to shine, and for precipitation not to fall. Since we can’t control the weather we will continue to pray and realize that there is a lot of risk involved in farming.
In the mean time I have been experimenting with another way of growing and eating garlic.
Green garlic is the aerial, or above ground, part of the garlic plant. It is edible just as green onion or chives are. It is best eaten when the greens are young and tender. It definitely has the garlic flavor when eaten raw but the flavor mellows quickly when it is cooked.
Growing green garlic can be as simple as planting some garlic cloves, give them plenty of sun and keep them watered (although not over watered) then cut the greens when they are young and tender. They will probably grow back a couple of times but eventually the plant will die off. Green garlic can be planted outdoors pretty much anytime of the year that the ground is suitable for planting. Depending on temperatures expect to see it sprouting in 4-8 weeks.
I am using a different approach to growing green garlic. I am growing green garlic indoors, in pots.
And rather than plant small cloves in the pots, I planted bulbils.
Although I have read that they are not true seeds, Garlic bulbils are produced by the garlic scape of hard neck garlic plants. If the scape is left on the plant to mature it produces a flower which then forms the bulbils. Each year we allow some scapes to mature and produce bulbils. I am certain that bulbils could be eaten just like garlic cloves except that they are covered with a tough skin that seems impossible to remove.
In the past I have planted bulbils in strategic places, as companion plants, in attempts to ward of critters . When left in the ground they act just like lilies, coming up in the spring dying off in the fall and coming back bigger the following spring. If they were dug up in the fall they would have produced a round or a single clove of garlic. If that clove is then replanted it will produce multiple cloves the following year. Depending on the variety it may take 2-5 years to produce an average size garlic bulb. Given this information you may see why I think growing green garlic is the best use for bulbils.
Green garlic is said to have the same health benefits as garlic cloves. From the plants I have growing I have chopped it and mixed it with butter to make garlic bread, I have added it to salads and chopped some to put it an omelet. Occasionally, I break off a sprig or two and just eat it. Growing your own green garlic is a great way to assure that you always have fresh, locally grown garlic on hand.