A love story of garlic
How does a city boy who grew up thinking garlic was a type of salt become a garlic farmer?
- READ MORE: 14 veggies for your fall garden
“I was obsessed the first time I tasted fresh garlic (roasted, with new potatoes) and wanted to grow it,” says Jordan Clasen, owner of Grade A Gardens (gradeagardens. com), an organic farm in Johnston, Iowa. Armed with lessons learned from garlic mentors — local farmers and organic growers — Jordan planted his first garlic crop in 2010: 5,000 plants on a half-acre. Since then he’s grown more than 40 varieties and expanded to 60,000 plants on 12 acres.
The long hours and hard work haven’t paled Jordan’s passion. He’s competed in garlic braiding at the Iowa State Fair in the past as well.
Labor of Love
Guy meets garlic. Guy starts garlic farm. Girl works at farm and falls in love with garlic, then the guy. Jordan Clasen and Whitney Brewer’s love story works even better as a business plan. “We’re both hard workers and into growing organic,” Whitney says, “and we both smell like garlic.” In the past three years they’ve added 30-plus vegetables and fruits, 300 chickens, and honeybees. You could say it happened organically.
Garlic seed sources: filareefarm.com, groworganic.com, keeneorganics.com.
Jordan and Whitney Clasen harvest spring garlic for their CSA and Des Moines-area farmers markets.
The six kinds of hardneck garlic, known for their scapes, have four to 10 large, boldly flavored cloves. Softnecks set 12 to 20 small, mellower cloves and have a six- to nine-month shelf life.
- READ MORE: Putting the 'culture' in agriculture
How to Grow Garlic
These pungent little bulbs come in all sorts of tasty options you won’t find in most stores.
Select the right variety. Different strains and varieties grow better in different climates. Rocamboles, Purple Stripes, and Porcelains prefer cold winters; Turbans, Asiatics, and Creoles like warm climates. Softneck Artichokes and Silverskins are the easiest to grow and do well in hot or cold conditions.
Plant in the fall. Depending on your climate, plant garlic in the spring or fall. Jordan Clasen plants during a full moon in October. “There’s something magical about planting cloves by moonlight,” he says.
Choose a location. You don’t need a dedicated vegetable garden. Plant in sunny existing beds and borders, and cover soil with mulch. • Cut off scapes. Snip off scapes (on hardnecks) in the spring when the curly stems begin to straighten. This sends more energy (and flavor) to the bulbs. You can skip snipping if you want a milder flavor.
Harvest and store. Dig up bulbs when the top half of the leaves are brown. The foliage can be left on or trimmed off. If you don’t use them right away, store in a cool, dark spot. For green garlic, harvest in the spring at any stage once the leaves are lush and full.
Consider green garlic vs. scapes. Gardeners get two bonus ingredients when they grow their own garlic. Green garlic (aka spring garlic) is a young plant that’s pulled before it has developed a bulb of cloves. Think of it as the garlic equivalent of a green onion. Scapes are curly, pencil-thick flower bud stems that hardneck varieties send up. Cutting off the scape directs energy into the bulb. Green garlic and scapes have a subtler fresh garlic flavor.