Sunday, November 8, 2009

Garlicky grumbles

It hasn't been a total disaster by any means, but this year's more scientific (and more expensive) approach to growing garlic has seen no worthwhile improvement after last year's very cheap and easy ad-hoc methods. Well, so far it hasn't been a roaring success, but I live in hope. Here's the story so far.

Earlier this year in autumn, May 2009, the box of Pintanor garlic bulbs, costing a princely $32, arrived by mail-order. I've blogged at length about this year's approach to growing garlic here, and then updated things here and here. All of this fuss is simply because (a) my garlic-growing experiences in previous years haven't been terrific, even if I did manage to harvest some and it tasted nice (bit like my track record with tomatoes, come to think of it), and (b) several people have told me that Sydney doesn't have that good a climate for growing garlic.

I can understand it if you don't have time to wade through all my earlier garlicky ramblings, but this is the garlic which I planted earliest in the year, in May, and it's doing best as of today.

The garlic which I planted after refrigerating the bulbs is doing worst, and the bulbs which spent 8 weeks in the fridge prior to planting are doing worse than the bulbs which spent 4 weeks in the fridge prior to planting. These are the '8 week' plants, and they were blown over recently in a day of strong winds and torrential rain – and they've had it. I tried to prop them up with that little stake and wire ties arrangement, but it was useless. They've had it.

And so I pulled them up to discover all the bulbs were about half-size. I'm going to dry them and then use them in cooking to see how they taste, so all is not lost. But they're a puny little bunch of mini garlics, definitely not a success. Oh well, the earliest planted garlic plants are still forging on quite well, the stems seem stout and I expect the crop to be full-size, so maybe next year I'll forget all that 'refrigerate first' business and just whack the bulbs in the ground the day they arrive in the mail.

However, elsewhere in the allium-growing department things seem to be going much better, so I thought I'd finish up with an update on my French eschallots, and my ever-reliable shallots (ie, scallions or spring onions).

This is what I mean by French eschallots. They're much milder flavoured than garlic, closer to an onion (but quite different) and often purpley coloured inside. They have a zillion uses in cooking, but my favourite thing is to bake them. Add several of these to a mixture of root vegetables baked in the oven, and they sweeten up everything wonderfully well. At the time I planted the last of my garlic in late June I saw these in a garden centre and thought "what the hell, let's try them". They are planted in the soil with the neck of the bulb just above the soil surface, and the new bulbs form in a circle around the base of the parent bulb. When you see the next few photos you'll know what I mean.

This unruly tangle is my eschallot patch this morning. There's not a straight line to be seen anywhere. I hope that's normal! I've never grown them before, and they do look quite odd.

Several stems erupt from the one point in the soil where the parent bulb was planted.

They have just started to send up flower buds now and every one of them is a weird, twisting, curling shape that just makes me like them even more. Harvest time is when they start to die down, so as they are only starting to flower, getting bigger and more chaotic looking every day, I guess I won't be harvesting these guys until Christmas, maybe later.

Meanwhile, the endless succession of trouble-free crops of shallots (ie, scallions/spring onions) continues. These are seedlings planted two weeks ago. I've added shallots to my list of essential kitchen garden plants that I plan to have growing virtually all the time (along with salad greens and all my herbs). They are just so reliable, long-lasting, versatile and convenient.

I sowed seeds of the next mini batch last Saturday and they were up by Thursday. The spring temperatures must suit them perfectly.

One of the things I realised a while ago about shallots is that I also like the look of them, as plants. Afternoon sun streaming through their hollow stems looks lovely.

And I'll finish up with an old photo of my summer vegie and flower patch back in 2007, when I first grew shallots and realised that they could be part of something pretty, as well as something delicious. That upright forest of shallots actually adds something to the look of that patch. It's a designer vegie!

I haven't given up on the garlic yet, and I'll try again next year, too, but as several people have told me they were interested in how it all turns out, I feel duty-bound to report both my failures and successes here on my blog, and so far the garlic has not been a success. C'est la vie.


prue said...

Maybe the little tiny garlic will be full of flavour (the glass is half full today!) Gourmet Traveller does a great recipe with caramelised eschallots and brie and watercress. Tastes divine! Keep up the good gardening, and hope you are getting some rain (down in Melbs it is very dry and getting hotter by the day. 35 today!)

Liss said...

So is the moral to the story forget refrigeration or only for a little bit? How annoying for you!

I wanted to give garlic a go next/soon but now I'm re-thinking it! eek.

greenfumb said...

I think garlic is temperamental, I failed compIetely last year. This year I ordered Early Purple and Italian Red from Diggers and they came out really well. No refrigeration or any other special care but they were in a raised bed which helps in a wet Sydney winter I think.

I have plaited them up and they are now drying so i don't know how they'll taste but they smell pretty good.

Maybe you could try another kind next year, and maybe raise them up a bit.

Liss said...

Ah, Deb - good tips. Must join Diggers, keep meaning to!! Want to get some heirloom seeds too.

Jamie said...

Prue: I was thinking of test-frying one or two cloves just to see how they taste, but as for the rest I think I'll use them all at once, in the one dish. Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic is a French classic that I've cooked many times. You don't peel, chop or do anything to the garlic (it's called cooking them 'en chemise' in their shirts), and as the garlic bakes in the moisture of the covered casserole it just becomes very sweet and fragrant, with the texture of toothpaste in the end. Nice to spread on crusty bread.

Liss: the moral of the story is no refrigeration at all. And definitely have a go at growing some next year. I'm going to order mine in April, to plant in May.

Greenfumb: I reckon the raised bed idea sounds great – thanks for that tip. I'll be doing that next year.

greenfumb said...

I forgot to mention that I can't grow onions for love nor money. On the rare occasion that they have germinated the b***y chooks have dug them all up.