While as a rule farm animals do not feast on garlic crops, it is not unusual for Naomi Scanlon to catch a whiff of the unmistakable root vegetable on the breath of her lone white cow, Fritha.
“She’s the one that loves garlic,” Scanlon said before switching her attention to her friendly goat, Peaches. “Peaches loves the scapes, those are her favorite.”
Scanlon said it was her farm livestock, primarily her goats and sheep, that got her into the garlic business many years ago, as she was seeking a crop that would work well with the animals. As lambing and kidding season falls in the spring when garlic is just starting to grow, Scanlon thought it would be a good fit.
Eight thousand garlic bulbs, grown on a “fat half acre” of land, now line the floor of Scanlon’s parents’ barn in Canterbury, each planted and picked individually by Scanlon and a few local helpers. Scanlon also snips each scape, the false flower stem of the garlic, by hand in mid-June, after its first curl.
“Scapes are great for stir-fry,” she said. “You treat them as you would garlic or asparagus. You can make a pesto with them.”
Scapes curl twice before uncurling. When the bend in the scape is at a right angle it often indicates that it is time to harvest the bulbs. As Scanlon snips the scape off before it uncurls, she uses the bulb’s leaves as her compass. When the sixth one begins to die, she begins the harvest.
Scanlon began harvesting her garlic on July 15, five days earlier than in prior years. The garlic will be hung and dried in her parents’ barn to allow the bulbs to cure. Drying the garlic cures the bulb, making the shell around the clove harder and tighter. It also dries out the wrapper and extends the shelf life of the garlic. Garlic bulbs have a shelf life of up to three months.
Scanlon planted her crop on Columbus Day weekend, burying each clove three inches deep in hills of rich, organic soil. The crop was then covered with three to four inches of mulch. The winter gives the bulbs time to develop their flavor, but Scanlon noted that if garlic is left in the ground for too long the bulbs will begin to break open in the soil and each clove would become a new bulb.
Scanlon received a grant from the National Resource Conservation Service for a 30- by 72-foot-high tunnel to grow her garlic under.
“I still have some kinks to work out but it definitely shows great promise,” Scanlon said of the tunnel growing system.
“Covered crops are great for controlling water, but it means that even if it’s pouring outside you have to go out and water the crops,” Scanlon said, adding that garlic needs more than an inch of water a week and must go without water for the two weeks prior to the harvest. The tunnel did, however, meet Scanlon’s expectation of allowing the harvest to begin earlier.
Scanlon sells scapes, garlic bulbs and garlic jellies and powders at the Concord and Hooksett farmers markets under the name Two Sisters Garlic. She also sells her jelly at the Canterbury Country Store.
“It’s hard to sell [the jellies] retail because people who are garlic-crazy will pick them up but [those who are] not … will need to taste it,” Scanlon said. “If they taste it probably 99 percent of people are sold on it.”
Scanlon uses her garlic to make a variety of garlic jellies including red pepper, rosemary ginger, mint and simple (just garlic). “The first year we didn’t make the simple jelly because we thought no one here would see garlic jelly and want to eat it,” Scanlon said, adding that she added the plain flavor because her customers began to request it. The simple and rosemary ginger can be used as a glaze for chicken or a roast. The rosemary ginger also makes a good Chinese food topping, Scanlon noted.
“You can use [garlic jelly] any way you would use mustard or ketchup,” she said.