Thursday, June 11, 2015

Growing Organic Garlic

Edith on the farm

Please help me welcome Edith Maxwell to Killer Hobbies today!  I can't cook worth beans, but I love to eat, and garlic is one of my favorite food groups!  Today Edith will teach us how to grow our own.

Take it away, Edith!

First, thanks so much for having me here as a guest, Tracy! Twenty years ago I operated and co-owned a small certified-organic farm in northeastern Massachusetts. One of my specialties was garlic. I grew hundreds of bulbs of both stiff-neck and soft-neck (braidable) garlic.
It’s a fabulous crop, and you don’t have be a farmer to grow it. In New England, farmers and hobby gardeners alike plant it in late fall, when everything else is dying off for the winter, preferably on a nice sunny Indian-Summer kind of day. Just get a few nice firm bulbs of organic garlic and separate them into cloves.
Here is a paragraph from my second Local Foods mystery, ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part, with organic farmer Cam Flaherty planting her garlic; it tells you how to plant the crop.  She has already split the bulbs into cloves, selecting the fattest ones for planting and using the rest in her own kitchen.
Kitty comes to investigate
Planting the bulbs
“She took the basket of cloves and a pitchfork to the field. She loosened a large bed that had held bush beans earlier in the season, so it was now rich in nitrogen from nodules on the legume roots, and covered it with several inches of finished compost. Kneeling, she pressed a clove, root side down, about an inch into the loose rich soil. The next clove went in four inches away. She continued that way along the length and width of the bed, every clove a hand’s width from its neighbor. Preston [Cam’s Norwegian Forest Cat] sidled by to visit and sat on a bale of salt marsh hay to watch her work.”
After the ground freezes in December, you mulch the beds with salt marsh hay, which prevents frost heaves. In April the green shoots push up through the hay, and you harvest it in late July. I learned much of what I know about growing garlic from a great book, titled Growing Great Garlic. Garlic has no pests in our area. It doesn’t need pruning or thinning. It feels like a free crop in the spring, because the work was done so long ago. I use lots of garlic when I cook, and it stores well. I can’t even think of a down side.

Garlic in April

Garlic in June
When you plant stiff-neck garlic varieties like German Red and Rocambole, the cloves grow in a single layer around a central stalk. After the summer solstice, the garlic starts bulbing underground, and stiff-neck garlic throws up a scape. It’s the stalk, which becomes an alien-looking pointy growth that loops around into a circle and then keeps growing. The scape ultimately wants to become a garlic flower, but that robs the bulbs of energy, so you clip them off with scissors. Don’t compost them, though, because they’re delicious. I like to saute them. These crunchy green stalks, either whole or chopped, provide a nice mild garlic flavor. If you don’t grow your own, you might find some at a farmers’ market at the end of June.
I harvest the garlic when two-thirds of the leaves have yellowed, and lay it out first in the sun and then in a cool dry place to cure. Soft-neck garlic varieties, which grow in several concentric layers and don’t have the rigid central stalk, can then be braided.
Readers, what about you? Have you grown garlic? Do you have any varieties you prefer, or would you rather just shake a little dried garlic out of a jar?
In the third Local Foods mystery, Farmed and Dangerous (May, 2015), snow is piling up in Westbury, Massachusetts. Unfortunately murder seems to be the crop in season. Supplying fresh ingredients for a dinner at an assisted living facility seems like the least of Cam’s worries—until one of the elderly residents dies after eating some of her produce. As the suspects gather, a blizzard buries the scene of the crime under a blanket of snow, leaving Cam stranded in the dark with a killer who gives new meaning to the phrase “dead of winter.”
Agatha-nominated and Amazon-bestselling author Edith Maxwell writes four murder mystery series, most with recipes, as well as award-winning short stories.
Farmed and Dangerous is the latest in Maxwell's Local Foods Mysteries series (Kensington Publishing). The latest book in the Lauren Rousseau mysteries, under the pseudonym Tace Baker (Barking Rain Press), is Bluffing is Murder. Maxwell’s Country Store Mysteries, written as Maddie Day (also from Kensington), will debut with Flipped for Murder in November, 2015. Her Quaker Midwife Mysteries series features Quaker midwife Rose Carroll solving mysteries in 1888 Amesbury with John Greenleaf Whittier’s help, and will debut in March, 2016 with Delivering the Truth.
A fourth-generation Californian, Maxwell lives in an antique house north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the other Wicked Cozy Authors (, and you can find her at, @edithmaxwell, on Pinterest and Instagram, and at


Linda O. Johnston said...

Welcome to Killer Hobbies, Edith! My husband's the farmer and gardener in my family and I don't know if he's ever grown garlic but I'll have to find out. Sounds good but it might not work out in drought-stricken California.

Edith Maxwell said...

Thanks, Linda! Yeah, I never grew it when I was a Californian. Gilroy is the garlic capital of the world, of course, but it gets coastal fogs. (Not sure what part of CA you live in.)

Jane Gorman said...

My thumb is definitely black, not green, but you make it sound so easy, I'm tempted to try ... or maybe I better stick with reading about it. Actually, one of the things I love most about reading cozies is learning about things (like planting garlic) that I knew nothing about.

Patg said...

Very interesting. I love garlic, but never grew it. My 'growing' of food is limited to watering my neighbor's tomatoes plants when they are away in exchange for a few. All in pots, BTW, live on, yes on, river. Though I use jarred garlic, I do love buying and using elephant garlic.