Garlic is a must-have for the kitchen, and it grows well in Western New York.
What you might not know is that it comes in an amazing range of flavors, said Tom Szulist. He and his wife Vivianne Singer Szulist own Singer Farm Naturals, which specializes in growing organic gourmet garlic.
“Spanish Roja is the king of all garlics,” Szulist said, pointing to some of the garlic he has harvested on the farm in Appleton, which is in Niagara County. Spanish Roja generally comes out at the top of taste tests.
Kilarney Red, named for the family that developed it, is a variation of the Spanish Roja and has a peppery taste.
Then there’s Metechi, the hottest of all the garlics.
“When you bite into it, you get a burning on your tongue,” Szulist said with glee. “You feel it burning as it goes down your throat. When it hits your belly, you can feel the heat in your belly, followed by a burning of the sinuses, a popping of the ears, and maybe tears.”
Singer Farm Naturals has limited production of about 20 varieties of garlic now, and Szulist expects 2012 will be their biggest production year. He hopes to eventually have 100 varieties available.
While the various varieties of garlic taste different from each other, they all look very much the same to the beginning garlic grower. (The garlic in our first photo compares cleaned garlic to newly harvested garlic.) If you plant several varieties, make sure you label them well.
What you eat is what you plant. One clove of garlic is like one seed. Plant the clove with the pointy side up and the rough section down. (See photo at right.)
You can plant garlic after the last full moon in October, which this year occurs on Oct. 23. A good rule of thumb, Szulist said, is that you can plant garlic in late October through November, and sometimes as late as December, weather permitting.
Garlic doesn’t like wet feet, he said, so it’s best to plant it in a raised bed.
How deep should you plant the garlic? It depends on the size of the clove, he said. If the clove is an inch tall, you want an inch of dirt above it. If the clove is 1 1/2 inches tall, you want 1 1/2 inches of dirt above it.
If you buy garlic in the supermarket, it may have originated in another country and may have been fumigated, so it may not grow. If you buy organic garlic, you can be sure it hasn’t been fumigated and will grow, he said.
Hard neck garlic doesn’t store as well. However, it does get a cool flower called a “scape,” which you can see in the photo at left. The scape can be eaten, too.
If you allow the scapes to remain in place, they will produce “bulblets,” which you can see in the photo at right. You can plant these seeds, but Szulist said that the bulb of garlic produced will be small. It will take three years to produce a large bulb of garlic using bulblets. In addition, the garlic produced may be different from the original plant. He recommends using cloves of garlic to start your plants.
Soft neck garlic doesn’t get a scape. It tolerates a hotter climate, and the winter doesn’t have to be as cold. It will last longer in storage.