For decades, this backyard gardener has planted a crop of garlic. It takes some planning. Like tulip bulbs, garlic gets planted in the fall. And mid-July to late July is the usual time of year in upstate New York to harvest the crop. Then it’s hung in my cool basement to dry and used over six or seven months from September onward.
With last year’s backyard garlic crop now all used up, as of the second full week of July 2021, the backyard garlic is sadly not quite ready to be harvested. Patience!
In late September 2020 of last year, when enduring the challenges of the corona virus had changed everyday life and occupied the minds of most folks, my fall ritual of digging in the earth and planting garlic was especially reassuring, as it has been for years. In fact, growing garlic was one of the main factors in starting up www.knowwhereyourfoodcomesfrom.com by this backyard gardener and organic food advocate.
As a member-owner working in the produce department of Honest Weight Food Co-op in my hometown of Albany, New York during the wintry month of January a dozen years ago, I was unpacking a delivery of garlic and noted that it was labeled “organic” garlic from China. That didn’t feel right to import garlic from so far away when it is such an easy crop to grow in upstate New York. So began my more mindful focus on knowing where food comes from.
Last September’s planting of garlic, which I still await harvesting this July, 2021, had special meaning for another reason. As a monthly reader of the magazine, ACRES, The Voice of Eco-Agriculture, the September 2020 issue, labeled The Health Issue, had a short article by Leah Smith with the simple heading, Garlic Guidelines. It included information that came with some surprise, which I was pleased to learn. (Leah Smith works on her family’s organic farm in mid-Michigan, Nodding Thistle. She is a home and market gardener, and editor of the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance (MOFFA) quarterly newsletter.)
ACRES magazine, in my humble opinion, should have a much greater circulation than the total paid circulation noted a couple years ago of 15,100. Every month, there is worthwhile information covering organic and sustainable farming- crops, soils, livestock, tillage, interviews, feature stories and columns from “the brightest minds worldwide in ecological agriculture,” information very useful to backyard gardeners and mindful eaters too.
The short advice piece on garlic by Leah Smith noted that “No details in food preparation and its impact on nutrition are more fascinating than those surrounding garlic and its allicin levels.” Smith goes on to explain that allicin is garlic’s most active ingredient and has earned the distinction of being the food which is by far the strongest inhibitor of tumor cell growth.
Although aware that garlic was a healthy food (and that the squirrels and rabbits in my backyard leave it alone), I didn’t know that it was thought by many that it had cancer-fighting ability. I also was unaware that, in Smith’s words, “Amazingly, a clove of garlic doesn’t contain any allicin!” Huh?
She explained further, a clove of garlic contains alliin (protein fragments) and alliinase (enzymes). These two elements in a clove of garlic are “mingled” when garlic is minced or crushed. But to produce allicin, you cannot immediately place minced or crushed garlic into a hot pot or pan because the allicin-producing reaction would fail to take place. Instead, it is necessary to allow the minced or crushed garlic to sit for 10 minutes before you put it in a heated environment so that the allicin-producing reaction takes place. (By the way, Smith points out that chewing a clove of garlic does not allow for the allicin-producing reaction to take place; not that this garlic-lover has ever chewed on a clove of garlic.)
Another important point made by Smith: once the allicin is formed (by allowing the minced or crushed garlic to sit for 10 minutes), it is NOT destroyed by heat. Ergo, no reason to consume garlic raw!
With garlic harvesting time soon to arrive in an additional week or two, there’s more reason to look forward to another crop of garlic for the months ahead.
If you’re thinking of planting garlic this coming fall, check out Fruition Seeds which offers a Beginning Garlic and Grower Collection as well as nearly a dozen types of organic garlic for planting.
(Frank W. Barrie, 7/14/21)