Garlicana is a very small farm that lies on the border between the Cascade and Klamath Mountains in southwestern Oregon on a tributary of the South Umpqua River. The elevation is around 1,340′. Winters are cool and damp but temperate. Winter lows are generally in the teens and summer highs can hit the triple digits. The clay loam soil seldom freezes for long but, being clay, it is slow to warm up and dry out in spring. Elk Creek runs through the farm and occasionally floods depending on the frequency of so called atmospheric rivers that increasingly characterize winter weather patterns as well the extent of deforestation further up the watershed. Clay soil, while challenging to work with has some advantages: it has high mineral content which is reflected in the flavor and nutrient value in the produce grown. The flavor of garlic is affected by myriad factors, including the soil type. For example, the pungency of garlic is affected by soil sulfur content and soil temperatures, the color by iron content. While flavor characteristics of most garlics listed here are briefly described, this is highly subjective and these may not hold true outside this location. A garlic that’s been acclimatized in one bio-region may look and taste quite differently after a few years in another. Garlic is day length sensitive and clove number and size are influenced by latitude, among other factors.
Garlicana, needless to say, is primarily a garlic farm. There are now over one hundred and fifty accessions grown out every year. Many of these are varieties grown out from true seed and in several seasons of trial before either culling out or selecting for either commercial production or further true seed propagation. Planting, mulching, weeding, harvesting and cleaning is done by hand. No chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or fungicides are used and careful attention is paid to sustainable soil practices. All inputs are OMRI listed and while organic practices are followed, at this point Garlicana Farm chooses not to engage in the certification process.
Though garlic is paramount here, Garlicana Farm is a diverse operation. A four year rotation basis includes a plethora of cover crops, many varieties of potatoes, a wide array of vegetables grown for farmer’s market and, of course, alliums. This farm is located on a creek that has seen a return of endangered coho salmon and is host to myriad other species, in spite of being devastated by clear cut logging, herbicide spraying and forest mismanagement. We support, encourage and actively participate in watershed restoration. This involves the reintroduction and proliferation of beavers which, as a keystone species, are a necessary and intrinsic part of our ecosystem. The decisions we make about farming are reflective of our stewardship of the land and stream during our time on this Earth.
A Brief History of Garlic
Garlic is from the genus Allium and the species sativum. It is one of the oldest known cultivated crops. Historical references date back nearly 6000 years. Clay representations of garlic that were found in Egyptian tombs have been dated back as far as 3750 BCE. Babylonians used garlic 4500 years ago and there are references in China that suggest its cultivation there as far back as 4000 years ago. Its center of origin, however, is Central Asia, an area stretching between the Caspian Sea and Western China. The Great Silk Road travels through this region which is the only place where true wild garlic grows. Because of garlic’s ability to store and adapt, as well as its culinary and medicinal attributes, traders brought garlic with them and it spread east, through China, went south through India and SE Asia. It was carried west, across the Caspian Sea to the Caucasus Mountain region which was its primary point of distribution to Europe and the Middle East. Variation has occurred over it’s long history through mutation as it was subject to vastly differing climates, latitudes, soil types, etc. resulting in hundreds of regionally adapted cultivated varieties. It is common in the West to appropriate from people and cultures the world over. At Garlicana we find it important to learn about and honor those people and places which these garlics are from. In many of the descriptions that follow, you will find hyperlinks to other sites, mostly Wikipedia. While the latter has its limits and faults, it is an excellent jumping off point from which to further explore places and subjects. Glancing through the variety descriptions it may be apparent our concern for human rights; this is intrinsic to who we are as a farm. Represented here are samples of the very genetic material our ancestors have grown, traveled with and consumed for over six millennia. The history of garlic is our own and people who live in small villages in faraway places are closer to us than it may appear.
The only place where true wild garlic has been found is Central Asia. In the late 1980s Western botanists and horticulturalists ventured to Central Asia to collect germplasm from a wide range of plants including wild garlic. The subsequent break up of the Soviet Union gave way to greater access by Western scientists who brought back a plethora of garlic both domestic and wild landraces. Many of these made it into commercial circulation in Europe and the U.S. leading to a renaissance in garlic cultivation. We have greatly benefited from seed collection missions that have returned with samples of garlic growing in the wild from rocky slopes, to dried up riverbeds and remote pastures. Imagine a plant propagating itself for thousands of years wedged between some rocks on the side of a mountain then transported across the planet to a lush well cultivated field in highly fertile soil. Plants collected recently from the wild often display impressive vigor. Garlic is susceptible to viruses and varieties that have been in commercial circulation for awhile often show yield declines often attributed to this problem. Wild collected cultivars haven’t had the generations to succumb to viral pressure. A number of these wild garlics are grown here at Garlicana Farm and are used to collect true seed. We offer a selection of these varieties here. In naming them we have tried to best represent their places of origin.
True Garlic Seed (TGS)
Even in the wild, garlic reproduces asexually, one clove becomes a bulb. However, some varieties of garlic have the ability to be propagated sexually which has become an area of keen interest at Garlicana. To this end, in collaboration with Ted Meredith, Avram has been producing true seed, attempting to breed new varieties and growing out virus free clonal materiel. Growing Garlic from True Seed, a sort of how-to on saving true seed and authored by Ted and Avram, was published in the 2012 spring edition of Seed Savers Exchange “Heritage Farm Companion”. Here at Garlicana, we have had a number of inquires as to which garlic varieties would be likely candidates for seed saving and, in the following listings, note from which varieties seed has been successfully procured. With every successive generation, there’s an increase in seed set and germination rate. There is a lot of trialling in the process and it will take a number of seasons to grow out enough of the best of these new clones of 1st generation progeny to make available. In due time, subsequent generations with be offered as well. We did not invent this process and while it isn’t the easiest vegetable seed to save, anyone can do it and the results can be very rewarding. It must be said that while Avram has years of work into this and years of work to come in breeding new, more resilient varieties, he will not be filing for PVP status, or patents. The process of all traditional seed breeding should remain in the public domain. If the products of such efforts result in wide circulation then perhaps that’s a measure of its success. It may well be that within a few years true garlic seed will be marketed commercially by large agricultural concerns. Some very brilliant researchers have been funded to produce true seed, assumed, primarily for use in agribusiness. Given the time and expense that’s gone into producing those seeds, they will certainly be patented property. The process, however, with which true garlic seed is obtained is not the intellectual property of any corporation and we encourage garlic growing aficionados to experiment, to create new varieties and keep plant diversity beyond the clutch of agribusiness.