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Planting Bulbs? Don’t Forget the Garlic!

September 23, 2013

There are two kinds of garlic — soft neck and hard neck. Soft neck varieties, including ‘Early Italian Purple,’ have thick, papery skins. This is the garlic you want for long-term storage (long-term meaning winter and early spring).

Hard neck types, like ‘Spanish Roja,’ have thin skins, and thus do not keep well. But, they produce the curly flowering heads, or “scapes” . These scapes, which should be cut off when they emerge (they interfere with bulb-development) make the most divine pesto in the world.

Garlic Scape Pesto
Ingredients for about two cups:

9-10 garlic scapes, knobby seed-pods removed and discarded
1/2 cup (2.5 oz bag) slivered almonds
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

Special Equipment – A food processor; a rubber spatula

Preparing the scapes – Rinse scapes in cold water, then roughly chop into half-inch pieces.

Processing — Pour scapes and slivered almonds into the bowl of your food processor. Blend for 30 seconds, or until a fairly smooth texture is achieved. Scrape down sides of bowl with your rubber spatula.

With the machine running, slowly add olive oil, and process until thoroughly incorporated, about 15 seconds. Then add the Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, and blend for another 5 seconds. Taste carefully — you might like to add more salt and pepper.

Although this pesto is good freshly made, it is even better when refrigerated for several hours or overnight. Before chilling, place the pesto in a glass bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap.

Garlic scapes are available only from June through mid-July.

Planting – No matter which variety you grow, be sure to plant in autumn, well before the ground freezes. Choose an area which receives full sun. First, loosen the soil to a depth of 8 inches, and amend it with copious quantities of leaf mold. Next, separate individual cloves from a big head of garlic, and plant them 3 inches deep and about 6 inches apart, in rows which are 6 inches apart. Plant with the pointed tips up. Finally, cover the cloves and gently firm the soil.

Feeding & Watering – When green shoots begin to grow in spring, sprinkle between the rows an organic, balanced fertilizer. Provide one inch of water per week. So cared for, you can count on each little clove to produce one stem and one bulb, which in turn may include 20 individual cloves.

Harvesting – Just when to dig the bulbs is largely a matter of intuition. Some gardeners harvest exactly 3 weeks after the scapes appear. Others insist on delaying harvest until one-half to two-thirds of the leaves turn brown. Still others claim that harvest time is when the garlic tops fall over, and 3 leaves have withered. I’m in this last camp. Of course, I always check first, by digging one or two bulbs. If the garlic seems to have formed individual cloves, and these are tightly covered with papery tissue, then I go ahead and harvest.

In any event, never tug on stems; reach under with your hands or trowel and lift up the bulbs.

Curing – Now let the bulbs dry, or “cure” for three to eight weeks in some warm, airy place which is out of the sun.  Once cured, brush off any clinging soil. Do not actually wash the bulbs until you are ready to use them.

Winter Storage – Garlic needs cold temperatures to store well. If you can manage it, 35°F is ideal.  You can cut off tops now, if you don’t plan to braid them . The roots can be clipped before storage, too.

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