Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About GARLIC!!
On Tuesday, July 24, 2018, we began a newsletter series on garlic which will span 8 newsletters in total, and by the end of this series you will have learned all you ever wanted to know (and then some) about garlic. For those of you who are about to click on the Unsubscribe Button, please don’t! The reason we are dedicating so much writing to garlic is that it can be grown almost anywhere in the US, it is easy, dependable and fascinating to grow, and it is one of the healthiest vegetables you can consume. In grocery stores and health food markets, you can only find a few different kinds of garlic, so it is best to grow your own.
The Asiatics are not well known in the US, and they have never been grown on a commercial scale except by some of the small, independent garlic growers. Originally, the Asiatics were thought to be closely related to the Artichoke garlics which are softnecks. However, DNA studies now indicate that the Asiatics are most closely related to the Striped garlics which are hardnecks. Still, this group is not composed entirely of hardnecks. Of the three Asiatics we are going to discuss in this newsletter, Asian Tempest and Pyongvang are hardnecks and Korean Mountain is a softneck.
The Asiatics have numerous distinctive features. Most possess incredible flavor rivaling the Striped garlic groups. Many produce beautifully colored cloves which are reminiscent of the Creole garlic group. Their clove wrappers are unusually thick, and their bulb wrappers frequently display lovely purple striping. Some are excellent storers despite being hardnecks.
The two most unusual features of the Asiatics are the shape of their umbrel ‘beaks’ and the timing of their harvesting. In Part I of this series on garlic, we explained to you that many garlic varieties produce a central stem called a ‘scape’. The scape is actually a flower/seed stalk, and with most garlics it should be removed as soon as you see it.
Near the top of the scape, a bulbous globe forms which is called the umbrel. The umbrel contains the seeds of the garlic. The seeds are called bulbils. Most bulbils will not produce viable garlic. However, some bulbils will produce viable garlic, but it takes 3-4 years to get a sizeable bulb.
The umbrel is capped with a short, pointed ‘hat’. This ‘hat’ is called a ‘beak’. Garlic beaks are usually 1-2 inches long and quite thin. The beaks of Asiatics are very long (3-6 inches) and very broad (resembling a long, wrinkled bean pod-Ron Engeland, 1995). Asiatic beaks are so distinctive that they form an architectural feature in the garden.
The bulbils of Asiatics are huge. Some umbrels contain only 3-4 huge bulbils compared to 20-30 bulbils for other garlics. Unlike the bulbils of other garlics, Asiatic bulbils can produce a small bulb within a year of planting. They are often gloriously colored in shades of deep burgundy, brown or magenta.
The second unusual feature about Asiatics is the timing of their harvest. With other garlics, you wait until the entire stem has turned 2/3 brown and then you harvest. For Asiatics, as soon as you see the stem beginning to turn, you need to harvest. Asiatics have fragile bulb skins which are prone to splitting if the bulb is left in the ground too long. When the skins split, the cloves do not last very long. Also, Asiatics will store longer if they are harvested early.
One final distinctive feature about Asiatics is that unlike other garlics, you do not have to remove the scapes when they appear. The production of scapes in Asiatic garlic does not compromise the size of the bulbs. So if you really want to watch the development of scapes, plant some Asiatics and be entertained.