It's time to go out and snap off those cute curly garlic scapes. You want the plant to be frustrated in its reproductive mission and direct its photosynthesis into making a bulb. The bulb stores energy for another try next year, unless you get there first and put it into the spaghetti. The scapes have become quite the high priced delicacy, a side benefit of growing your own. It's also time to hill up the potatoes. This means burying the stems so that the plant will grow more tubers. Otherwise, you get all top growth and few spuds.
Your early garlic may be ready to harvest. When the stems fall over, any growth that is going to happen has already happened. Growers harvest the field when half the stems have fallen over. Gardeners can be picky and get their garlic as it is ready. You want to catch the bulb at that point where it is fully mature, but the top has not yet opened up. Open tops allow dirt to get in among the cloves. Wash those ones off and use immediately; they won't keep. When you have the bulbs out of the ground, brush off most of the dirt and lay it out, stalk and all, on newspaper indoors or in a covered porch. If you have a well-ventilated barn with an elevated drying rack, more power to you, but then you hardly need tips from me.
The main season hard neck garlic comes on in August. We're getting the early soft neck varieties now. If you are looking for an early garlic, try planting Chinese Pink from Territorial in October for an early summer harvest next year.
Garlic comes in soft neck and hard neck types. The soft neck varieties keep longer. That's the ones that can be braided. To braid your garlic, lay it out and let it dry until the tops are no longer green but not completely shriveled. Clean off the dirt as it dries. Then start with three bulbs at the top. Cross the stems just like braiding your kid's hair, adding another bulb with each cross. Cinch the bulbs up good and tight as you braid, because the stems will continue to shrink as they complete the drying. When the braid is as heavy as you want (over enthusiasm results in a braid heavy enough to pull the hook out of the wall), finish braiding the stems and put a knot in the end to hold the braid together. Or decorate with a calico ribbon and some rosemary branches, if you want to impress your friends.
With a little practice, you will be making very nice garlic braids. The point of this work is to get the garlic in a compact form where it can be hung up in a well- ventilated spot with sufficient humidity. Your kitchen out of direct sunlight is an excellent spot. I keep mine in the basement.
Hard neck garlic has stems too tough to braid. For storage, pick the best ones and lay them, stems and all, to dry. The stems will shrivel, but leave them on so that the bulb cures properly. As they dry, clean off the dirt. When the stems are fully dry and the bulbs resemble something you would buy in a store, clip off the stems and store the bulbs someplace well-ventilated. A small net bag hung on the wall works well.
Besides the pricey scapes (excellent in stir-fried dishes), you can use the bulbs and stems that are too small, oddly shaped, or have open bulbs. Cut off the bulbs to use fresh.
The stems are hard and fibrous. Here's Walter Haugen's garlic stock recipe:
Clean off the dirt and shriveled leaves from the stem. Cut into short pieces. Use fresh, or freeze the pieces. When you want to make garlic stock, pull several stem pieces in a pan with some water and simmer. Use immediately, or keeps in the fridge for several days.
Garlic is a notorious source of contamination in preservation. To use garlic in pickles, peel the cloves and cut off the heel. Then clean up any dirt on the counter before going any further. Rinse off the cloves.
Here's a five-minute garlic dill:
Scrub pickling cukes thoroughly with a soft brush. Get your steam canner ready to go, and fill the reservoir with boiling water. Pack cukes into scalded jars with a dill head and one or more garlic cloves in each jar. Add pepper corns, a bay leaf, an optional small hot pepper and 1 level teaspoon of kosher salt per quart jar. Pour in boiling white wine vinegar until the jar is half full. Add boiling water to fill within a half inch of the top. Seal with scalded lids. Process in a steam canner for 5 minutes.
If you are up in the north country around Birch Bay, check out the Farmer's Market. Local meats (Keizer, buffalo, Farmer's Market house brand), fish (Barleans), poultry, dairy (Edaleen, Twin Brook, Appel Farm cheese), Barb's pies (Ferndale), honey (Guillumette's), knitted items, two local coffee roasters, bulk beans and rice, garden center, gifts, huge decorative clay flower pots (Mexico and Thailand). Plenty of vegetables and fruits. The fruits and vegetables are conventional and predominantly from elsewhere, but they look good.
The new owner might be open to carrying more local fruit and vegetables in season. John Sheehan, owner of Sundance Beef, purchased the Farmer's Market from Terry Smith and will be renaming it The Sundance Market. The place is larger than it looks from the road, and has more stuff in it than can be comprehended in one visit. The market has 10,000 square feet, which is the size of a supermarket in the 1960's. The Smiths added a huge pole barn last year, so business must be good.
A word to the entrepreneurs out there: they could use more local value added products, such as soap, herb teas, pasta, salad dressings, salsa etc.
Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, 3591 Birch Bay Lynden Rd, Custer, WA 98240.
Buffalo Link Soup (Buffalo Beenie-Weenie)
Soak 1 cup small white navy beans in water to cover over night and simmer until tender, keeping just enough water to cover.
Slice and brown a small onion and the buffalo links in a soup pot. Cut up the links.
Add 1 quart garlic stock (or other stock), savory, thyme, a bay leaf, cooked beans and 1/4 cup tomato paste, and simmer it all together for a bit.
For a fast workday meal, make garlic stock and cook beans ahead of time and store in the fridge. The then whole soup goes together quickly. Buffalo links are really good. A bit pricey, but one package can be divided to make two batches of soup. It's actually better that way, with a higher bean proportion to balance the rich flavor of the links.