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The 3 stages of garlic - vampires beware!

Garlic is one of the first things we plant for the next season, and thereby one of, or the, last things we plant at the end of fall. It’s always a nice moment when we’re saying goodbye to one year, we’re getting something ready for the next.

Garlic is also our only overwintered crop, meaning it stays outside in the field all winter long. It will sprout before winter and we’ll see little green shoots s-l-o-w-l-y growing up until spring when it suddenly explodes with growth! We carefully cover the garlic beds with a duvet of hay when they’re planted which acts as insulation for the plants’ tender new growth all through the winter.

In the spring, as it starts shooting up tall and popping out long, graceful green leaves, we get to have our first taste of this pungent crop. Green garlic, or spring garlic, is what you get when you pull up the plants at this stage, before the bulb has had a chance to grow. Looking remarkably like a leek, with which it shares a botanical family, allium, green garlic has a long, tender, edible stalk with many internal layers.

It has a lovely, mild flavor that won’t burn your mouth with garlic flavor. You can slice it up and cook with it or blend it into salad dressings or marinades. You could even throw them whole on the grill and serve alongside some chicken or steak. Since they haven’t fully developed yet, that strong garlic ‘spiciness’ hasn’t emerged, leaving you with a lot of options for enjoying this early spring treat.

Next in the progression of garlic stages is the garlic scape! With a fun name and an even more fun shape, these are the flower shoots of the garlic plant. They rocket up from the center of the plant and develop all sorts of fun curlicue shapes. With a little bud shape at the end, these would turn into flowers if we let them grow. However, farmers cut them off in order to focus the plant’s energy back into producing big, full bulbs of garlic.

I’ll make a quick detour here into hardneck vs softneck garlic. What do those terms even mean, you might ask? Basically garlic comes in two categories, that with a hard, central stalk - hardneck, and that without.

The garlic variety we grow is in the hardneck category and you’ve probably noticed that when you’re pulling all the cloves off the bulb, there is a hard, white stalk left behind. This is the neck! Hardneck varieties tend to have more complex and spicy flavors and are thus often preferred by small-scale farmers. They also thrive in cooler climates, which is why we can grow them over the winter, and actually need this cold exposure to form bulbs full of cloves. Other bonuses of growing hardneck garlic are that they peel much easier than softneck garlic AND you get the scapes, which softneck varieties don’t produce! The downside to hardneck garlic is that they don’t store as long as the softneck varieties. And this is why the garlic bulbs you buy at most big grocery stores are softneck! It has a much better shelf life and tends to be milder in flavor.

Finally, once spring has come and gone and summer is in full swing, the garlic is ready to be pulled from the ground and dried. At this point, all the sunshine, water, and soil nutrients needed have been absorbed and the bulbs are finished growing. The next step is letting them dry, or cure for several weeks to months. The garlic needs a dry, warm, and well-ventilated space to cure properly to avoid disease or damage. Some people hang the stalks in their barns or lay them out on greenhouse tables.

Finally, once the stalks are fully dry and the skins around the bulbs are crispy, the garlic is ready to eat! At this point it is full of flavor and potency and ready for all your garlic needs.

I don't know about you, but I rarely cook anything without garlic of some kind! It's delicious is every form, roasted and smooth, fried and crispy, raw and spicy, fermented and funky.

Here are some recipes if you want to go all in on that garlic goodness!

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