Friday, October 16, 2015

All This Variety

Not all garlic is created equal. First you have different "types" of garlic. Two main ones are soft neck and hard neck types, with the hard necks producing a hard flower stalk. Within those you have even more variation -- artichoke, rocambole, silverskin, porcelain, purple stripe, creole and turban, and maybe some others. Within those varieties are numerous cultivars, I won't even try to guess how many. I've grown at least a half dozen, probably more varieties myself and haven't even scratched the surface. Each type of garlic has different characteristics. Some types are easier to grow, more tolerant of specific conditions, different clove sizes and numbers, better flavor, longer storage, and so on. Cultivars vary a lot in flavor and pungency from complex flavors with little heat to simple flavor and blazing heat, with all variations in between.

I recommend trying different varieties to determine what works best for you and which flavors you prefer. You might like a complex, mild flavor for eating raw and a simpler flavor with lots of heat for its medicinal qualities. When planting, mark where each variety is, then keep each variety in separate net bags so you can identify, compare and assess them. Some have short shelf lives, so you'll want to use those first.

Following is information on the three varieties I will plant this fall.

Polish White, also called "New York White," has a "deep, rich flavor, with only a little bite" according to one source, and grows almost anywhere. It "keeps through the winter" or about six months and is considered early maturing. I'm not sure what "early" means in Kansas, but I often dig garlic anywhere from early June through July.

Polish White produces good size cloves and has fewer really small cloves in the center. That means it probably produces fewer cloves per head than the average artichoke type, but the larger size of cloves is a plus. According to one Web site, Polish White ranks 6-8 on the "garlickiness" scale and 3-4 on pungency. So it has lots of flavor (which one site called "rich, musky and earthy") but little heat, earning the adjective "mellow."

Polish White seems like a pretty standard garlic, good for people who like it, but can't take the heat. It works well in a wide variety of uses -- fresh, cooked, roasted -- and grows reliably.

Tochliavri. Use a pen or felt tip to mark each bulb so you know
which variety you are planting.
Red Toch (Tochliavri) was brought to the U.S. from a village in the Republic of Georgia called -- guess... OK, I'll tell you, Tochliavri. It also is the birthplace of the father of Chester Aaron, a well known garlic expert who has written several books on garlic and grows more than 30 varieties from 17 countries. I hadn't heard of him until I started researching information on Red Toch garlic. You learn something every day.

According the Seed Saver's Exchange catalogue the flavor of Red Toch is the "standard by which all other garlic flavor should be judged." It has a "complex yet delicate" or "rich but mellow" flavor (6-7 on the garlickiness scale, 1-2 on the pungency scale).

It adapts to many growing conditions and, although a soft neck variety, can produce a hard neck when stressed by heat. The heads contain 10 to 18 cloves and will keep for three to six months. Shorter keeping time may be a side effect of its milder flavor. It is good for use in cooking or raw.

Lorz Italian packs the most heat of the three varieties I have. While it ranks 4-5 on the garlickiness scale, its pungency ranks 8 (I presume on a 10-point scale). Adjectives used to describe its flavor include "bold" and "robust." Its bite supposedly increases with age (the garlic's age, not yours). One site noted that its flavor starts out mild and leaves a strong after taste. Its unique flavor earned it a spot in a program designed to preserve endangered heirlooms with unique characteristics.

Lorz provides 12-19 cloves per bulb with "not too many" small interior cloves that store for up to eight months, definitely a "keeper." One pound of this garlic can produce up to 10 pounds of new garlic.

Other garlic varieties I've grown in the past include Music -- a hard neck variety with really large cloves -- Silverwhite, Late Italian (or was it Early?), Metechi (which produced "giant cloves" according to my records), possibly Bogatyr (which I don't remember doing well), and probably a few others I can't remember. I think I grew Georgian Fire once, but I'm not sure. Maybe I just dreamed of growing it because I liked the name.

Pretty much every company that sells vegetable seeds also sells at least a couple of varieties of garlic. I've ordered garlic from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, Seed Savers Exchange, Keene Organics, and Nichols Nursery, and probably from a couple of other places. Check out lots of places to compare varieties and prices.

Have fun garlic shopping.

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