We’ve been trialing different varieties of garlic for a few years now, seeing what we like, and what likes our growing conditions. When you save your own seed garlic, eventually you’ll end up with a micro-variety adapted to your specific ecosystem. One piece of garlic-growing advice is to start with a strain native to a climate similar to your own. Chesnok Red (aka Shvelisi) is from the chilly Republic of Georgia, and can handle our dark and cold PNW winters, as well as our sometimes hot summers. It’s a hardneck variety, which means it sends up a central flower stalk, known as a scape, which hardens after harvest & drying. Gardening lore says that hardneck garlic doesn’t store as well as softneck, but in our trials we have found the opposite to be true. It is also claimed that hardneck varieties are fussier to grow, compared to softnecks which are grown for commercial harvest conditions.
But one drawback of softneck varieties is their ‘dislike’ of damp, cool spring weather. And we’ve had that a-plenty this year. The other 2 garlics we’re growing, Lorz Italian and Kettle River, don’t care for the constant rain, and are showing signs of rot. In what used to be normal early summer weather, this is when we’d stop watering garlic to it could form bulbs underground and the leaves could start dying back. Each garlic leaf forms a layer of skin around the cloves and bulb, and too much moisture prevents that process. So far we’re losing about 25% of the softneck garlic, but the Chesnok Red seems to be thriving in nearly identical growing conditions.
After almost a year of storage, it’s time to process the last of the garlic beofre the 2012 starts. Chesnok Red has kept it’s shape, color & flavor exponentially better than the other garlic, remaining plump and easy to peel, with huge cloves.
We cut the scapes before they harden and blossom to help direct plant energy to forming large bulbs instead of going to seed. The young scapes are garlicky and spicy and make wonderful pesto. We use our old Sears manual grinder, giving them a coarse grind with a little olive oil.
Then the whole batch gets ground through the fine plate until thoroughly mixed. We’ve also used pistachioes instead of walnuts, and some recipes call for pine nuts. Freeze in small portions (an ice cube tray works well) and have a taste of summer whenever you want. We’re planning to use some as a ‘rub’ for chicken breasts.
There are uncountable varieties of garlic, and most are easy to grow. Plant in the fall, harvest in summer, and keep back the biggest and best cloves to replant and establish your own landrace.
We Grow Garlic has descriptions of many garlic varieties.
See How to Grow Garlic for some detailed growing advice.