Wednesday 6 January 2010

Stuck indoor and researching garlic

Stuck indoor once again by beautiful (I do mean it!) snowfall, and having given up addictive iPhone game, I spent the edges around my working day trying to concentrate again on my future in horticulture.

Garlic caught my attention, as I remembered that the two variants I was given by Neil and did plant before the frost, were yet unnamed. So I started searching for garlic names and ended up knowing a bit more about garlic overall.

There seem to be two subspecies of garlic proper:
  • hardnecks (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon): mainly grown in the Northern emisphere, they may grow a flower stalk, and have on average fewer, bigger cloves, which have a shorter shelf life.
  • softnecks (Allium sativum var sativum): mainly grown in the Mediterranean region and for supermarket use because of a longer shelf life. Taste is stronger and cloves are more but smaller. It is recognisable by the stalk inside the bulb being papery rather than woody, so that it can be braided.

There is then something called elephant garlic, which not real garlic but is related to leek, and has bigger cloves and milder flavour so that it can easily be eaten row.

Remember the strange cloves I found on one of my garlic plants left in the ground beyond its time? It was not a dream! Apparently they are the normalest of thing for hardneck garlic, and come with their own name: bulbils. They are a reproductive device (not seeds though), as they produce immature plants in the first year, and then proper bulbs in another couple of years.

There, now I have identified my previously grown garlic as hardneck, and with it the mysterious bulbils, besides learning the name for the coiling flower stalks: scapes. These need to be pulled off to redirect energies to the bulb (which I did) and can be eaten in a variety of ways: roasted, stir fried, as pesto or seasoning (which I didn't - what a waste!).

Also, I realised that that previously grown garlic had Wight in their name ('Lautrec Wight' and 'Albigensian Wight') because the Isle of Wight is home to a big UK garlic farm (unfortunately not organic).

Incidentally, I have also found the name of Neil's garlic on Delfland Nurseries' website: they are both softneck varieties, 'Messidrome' and 'Printanor'. I wonder whether there's enough sun up here to develop them. And I worry for planting them at the wrong time (the first should have been planted in October/November and the second in January...)

Garlic has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, being allegedly an antiseptic and antiviral and benefiting the cardiovascular system (including on cholesterol and erectile dysfunctions). It is also an insect repellent and useful for companion planting of carrot and lettuce. Unfortunately, it has side-effects as the smell is expelled through the skin pores and perspiration and in breath. Some people are also allergic to it.

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