Flash in the Pan 

How to never buy garlic

I haven't purchased garlic since 1996. That's because I grow enough to eat a bulb of garlic every day, year-round. While most of my garden adventures are hobby-level attempts at self-sufficiency, my garlic crop is for real.

Garlic is an overwintering crop, planted in fall and harvested mid-summer. So if you want to have a crop next year, it's time to think about planting.

A year's supply of garlic hanging in your garage hints at many great meals to come, but by the time you reach that milestone the rewards have already been flowing for months. Your first return arrives in early spring, when your garlic races out of the ground. It's a foot tall when your neighbors' gardens are still empty brown patches.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ARI LEVAUX

As spring continues, your plants will continue to skyrocket, and in late May—assuming you planted a flowering variety—you'll be treated to a funky display of garlic blossoms curling from the plant tops. These should be harvested and enjoyed, both because they're tasty and because not harvesting the flowers will result in smaller bulbs.

The flowering varieties of garlic are collectively called hardnecks, so named because of their woody flowering stalks. Hardneck garlic generally has better flavor, peels easier and has larger and more uniform cloves, but most large producers grow softneck garlic, which is what you're more likely to find at the store. Softneck garlic is less labor intensive to produce, because there are none of those pesky and delicious flowers to harvest in spring. To home gardeners, those flowers are more of an asset than a liability, and yet another reason hardneck garlic is better suited to the garden.

The first step in growing your own garlic stash is getting your paws on some good garlic for planting. Seed garlic, marketed expressly for planting, is available from nurseries, seed catalogs and online, but there's negligible difference between that and any other garlic you'll find. The only advantage to buying seed garlic, which is considerably more expensive, is that you can choose your variety, and efforts have been made to ensure it's disease-free.

In addition to being a stickler for hardneck garlic, I also look for large bulb size, peelability and a minimum of cloves per bulb. Fewer cloves means bigger cloves, and there's nothing more annoying than dinky little hard-to-peel cloves. My variety of choice, a hardneck called Romanian Red, is a dream. The clove-to-bulb ratio is small, so even small bulbs have large cloves. Each rose-hued clove peels like a prom dress and delivers great flavor. Most importantly, it grows well in Missoula.

In addition to determining which garlic you want to grow, you'll need to calculate how much you need to plant to get the size crop you want—enough to eat, plus enough to plant next fall. This calculation is a bit tricky.

My high school algebra finally came in handy when it came to figuring how many bulbs to plant in order to generate a self-sustaining garlic crop. I devised an equation in which "x" is the number of bulbs one needs to plant.

To solve for x, you need the following values: y = the average number of cloves per bulb of the variety of garlic you're planting. In my case, Romanian Red averages five cloves per bulb, so y = 5. Z = the number of bulbs you want for eating (in my case, z = 365, or one bulb per day). The equation is: x = z/(y-1).

In my case, x = 365/(5-1), or 91.25, which I round up to 92. Working backwards to check my math: 92 bulbs contain 460 cloves, each of which will grow into a bulb. If I harvest 460 bulbs, and subtract the 365 bulbs I intend to eat, I'm left with 95 bulbs for planting next year. The extra three bulbs, a bonus, are the result of rounding up from 91.25.

Now for the easy part: planting the garlic.

Garlic is generally planted in October or November. It's a heavy feeder, so you want good dirt with plenty of organic material and nitrogen. Carefully break the bulbs into individual cloves, leaving the peel on and making sure the little scabby plate at the bottom of each clove remains intact. Plant the cloves with the scabby side down, an inch deep, six inches apart, in rows. Then mulch your patch with straw—not hay—about an inch deep. The mulch will keep your garlic warm in the winter and help the soil retain moisture. Come spring, the young garlic will poke through the mulch, and then it's off to the races. Make sure to keep it well-watered. When the leaves start turning brown, despite your dedicated watering, it's time to harvest.

Entire books have been written on this subject, so if you're serious about investing your time, money and land into a big garlic crop, you might want to consult a more in-depth source. I recommend Growing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland.

In the meantime, hit the farmers' markets, get some seed and get planting. The thought of those roots spreading under the mulch will help get you through the winter.

Ask Ari: Got milk options?

Q: Dear Ari,

I read with interest your recent story about A1 beta-casein in milk (see "Good milk vs. bad milk," Sept. 10, 2009). It was a letdown to learn, at the end of the piece, that certified A2 milk is not available in the United States. What options are there for milk drinkers who want to avoid A1 beta-casein?

—Dairy concerned

A: You have several options, none of which may be completely satisfying, but here they are.

Goat milk and sheep milk don't contain A1 beta-casein. So if you can get it, and like the flavor, that's the easiest and most reliable way to avoid A1 beta-casein.

In milk that does contain A1 beta-casein, the protein is only found in the milk solids. So items like butter and cream, which contain milk fat but not solids, won't contain A1 beta-casein—even if the milk it's made from

does.

In the near future, according to an A2 Corporation spokesman, the company plans to re-enter the U.S. market. This will occur either by certifying local herds as A1 beta-casein free, or by exporting shelf-stable A2 milk from Australia and selling it online to U.S. consumers.

Statistically speaking, milk from brown cows is much less likely to contain A1 beta-casein than milk from black and white cows. So if you happen to know what color your local dairy farmer's cows are, you can tilt the odds in your favor.

And, finally, you can attempt to convince your local dairy farmer that it's worth getting his or her herd tested for its A1 beta-casein content of its milk, and perhaps start purchasing A2 semen and begin the process of converting the herd to A2. If the A2 bandwagon ever starts to roll, dairy farmers who jumped on early will be glad they did.

To contact A2 Corporation, either for questions about buying A2 milk or for information on testing and converting a herd, contact Jose Cubillos, at JCubillos@ISIBrands.com.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net.

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