Garlic grows strong in Garden State
October hosts multiple celebrations of vegetable
By TAMARA SCULLY
LAFAYETTE — Garlic lovers gather annually, over the first weekend of October, at Olde Lafayette Village in Sussex County, to celebrate the year’s garlic harvest.
This season was the eighth year of the event, which began as a part of the educational outreach of a few area farmers, who began the Garden State Garlic Growers.
A Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Grant was awarded to the group in 2002, and Garden State Garlic Growers has since elevated the Garden State’s garlic crop into a recognizable presence with an in-demand, high value product, sought after by discerning consumers.
In addition to the annual gathering in Sussex County, garlic lovers can also meet, greet and eat at the Hoboken Historical Museum’s Garlic Days, on Oct. 17.
“Garden State Garlic works to promote and educate the public to grow and eat terrific tasting, heirloom gourmet varieties of garlic,” farmer Roman Osadca, of Valley Fall Farm in Johnsonburg, said.
Osadca, along with fellow farmers and garlic lovers Rich Sisti, of Catalpa Ridge Farm and Les Guile, of Walnut Grove Farm, have influenced the cultivation of garlic in northern New Jersey via the sharing of resources and information with other growers.
They have also created demand and established new markets for garlic, with public events designed to educate consumers about the myriad varieties of garlic available here, fresh and farm-direct.
A garlic grower for more than 25 years, Osadca grows more than 200 varieties of garlic from all over the world.
He is arguably New Jersey’s largest garlic grower, with this year’s harvest topping 11,000 pounds.
Garlic is harvested here in July, after bulb growth naturally stops in response to the changes in daylight.
Once the daylight hours peak and wan in June, the bulbs stop growing.
Several weeks of drying down are then needed before the bulbs are dug.
Typically, grocery store garlic is of the softneck type, and is primarily grown in China, which is by far the world’s largest grower of garlic.
Most processed garlic products in the commercial sector are made from Chinese garlic, which is notorious for being grown with massive amounts of chemicals, Osadca said.
While Osadca and Sisti are both chemical-free growers, they are not Certified Organic.
Sisti typically grows about 45 varieties of garlic, while Guile — who is Certified Organic — grows about seven.
While Osadca has more variety, he only grows a handful in bulk, while the rest are grown as small, specialty items, which he sells via mail order, to customers across the nation.
Two distinct types of garlic, the hardneck and the softneck, are grown by area farmers.
“A complete garlic grower grows both,” Osadca said of the hard and softneck varieties, although they require slightly different care.
Both types must be dried after harvest, in an environment where the air flow is continuous.
Proper drying allows the skins surrounding the cloves to protect the garlic until it is ready for use.
Properly dried skins peel off easily. Moist garlic peels very poorly. This process also refines the flavor of the garlic, which develops its subtlety after several months time.
The moisture content of the bulbs must decrease from about 70 percent to 10 percent to be properly cured.
Osadca dries his garlic in a hoop house covered that a heavy-duty opaque fabric, and has multiple layers of drying racks, where carefully labeled batches of bulbs await cleaning.
Bulbs are piled about ten inches deep, and three large fans move the air 24 hours a day to prevent mold growth and bulb spoilage.
The garlic crop isn’t all used for food. Seed garlic is needed to ensure next year’s crop.
If left to its own devices, garlic can reproduce itself, but it is a time consuming process, taking several years for any harvest-ready bulbs.
Instead, farmers plant cloves from the previous harvest each fall, typically by hand.
Garlic is planted in October and into November in New Jersey, where the bulbs get a head start on growth up until the ground freezes, typically sometime in late December.
Come spring, the bulbs have already established a healthy root system, and are ready to put energy into growing in size.
Osadca plants his bulbs in raised beds, about 10 inches between rows, with three rows per bed.
The beds are covered with black plastic mulch, and irrigation drip tape is laid.
Planted by hand into holes he hand-cuts in the plastic, the close spacing allows for “a lot of garlic in a given area” and the plastic minimizes weeds.
Garlic is planted two inches deep, about six inches apart, in a good, organic loam with no rocks. It requires a sunny location that does not get too wet.
“Garlic does not like weeds,” Osadca emphasized, so finding a method of planting which eliminates the potential for much weed growth is the key to natural garlic growing.
Garlic also needs adequate moisture, but does not like wet feet.
Local garlic is available year-round.
Both softneck and hardneck varieties can be stored, with sofnecks lasting for a year in proper storage conditions, while hardnecks will last until March.
Osadca offers a selection all winter long, with several thousand pounds in storage for winter season sales, until supply runs out.
It’s not too late to order some seed garlic and get planting, or order some bulbs to store for winter’s eating enjoyment.
Garlic grown here at home comes in several distinctive varieties, is chemical-free, and is a healthy addition to any diet.