I went to the Seed Savers’ Annual Conference in Decorah, Iowa in 2009. (The picture above was taken in the Seed Savers’ shop.) The conference which attracts a bevy of heirloom seed preservers and aficionados, is a mellow, midwestern affair where meals are eaten on bales of hay and people really describe German Extra Hardy garlic as “pretty dang hardy.” Garlic grower, Joel Girardin, known as the “Grandfather of Minnesota Garlic” gave an introduction to growing garlic with the following tip for garlic sellers. At the market, he put a sign next to his Georgian Fire bulbs that said, “Good for Salsa.” He sold out and told us, “if you want to sell a lot of garlic, just write ‘good for salsa’ because its all good for salsa!”
Mike McGrath, host of the radio show You Bet Your Garden, offered the following advice for gardeners who asked what do after they planted their garlic cloves in the ground and covered them with straw or mulch. “Go outside and have a beer. There’s nothing you can do for nine months.” (Turns out this is not entirely true as I learned, alas, the hard way. I planted 65 garlic cloves but didn’t sufficiently mulch and water them or trim the scapes in time. As I harvested my bounty, every one of my cloves emerged as a small misshapen marble. I had promised that none of my neighbors would need to purchase garlic this year. Maybe next year!)
Biologist Jeff Nekola, a Seed Savers advisor, grew and documented each of the garlic varieties in the Seed Saver’s collection and his Heirloom Garlic Archive gives the backstories, both fascinating and mundane, of different varieties. For example Russian Salvation was given to Helen Shultz’s grandfather in gratitude for the refuge he gave to a Russian sailor who jumped ship in British Columbia; Mom’s Oklahoma Rocambole was grown by Darrell Merrell’s mother for 25-30 years in Tulsa; Marino was given to Grace Reynolds by a Mr. Marino; Siberian was obtained by fishermen bartering with peasant farmers; Tajikistan comes from “a friend of Brendan Flanagan’s who seems to recall Brendan having given it to him.” And Music isn’t named for its beauty; it’s named for Al Music, a Canadian garlic grower.