Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review - Growing Great Garlic

A while back I mentioned picking up some books from Amazon with a gift card I had. One of the books was about root cellars, and the other two were about garlic. I just finished reading one of the books about garlic, and wanted to share my thoughts on it.

The book is Growing Great Garlic: The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers.        It was written by a grower of gourmet garlic, which is nice because the author is able to share practical knowledge and experiences.

The first few chapters of the book may not appeal to everyone. A number of pages are devoted to discussing the various types of garlic, and the disagreements that exist among many growers and scientists about the proper classifications of those types. There is also a thorough section on the history and geographical transition of the plant. While, at first, I felt that dedicating nearly a quarter of the book to these topics was a waste of valuable space, I did end up with a better appreciation for the plant.

The remainder of the book was very informative, and I believe will appeal to anyone interested in growing garlic. There are chapters dedicated to site selection and preparation, selection of planting stock, planting, harvesting, storing, and even marketing of garlic.

The reason that I was attracted to this book in the first place was the focus on growing garlic using organic methods. Its a nice change of pace to read a book that is not only targeted to organic growers, but that is written by someone who has experience with organically growing the particular crop. While it is possible to adapt information presented in "traditional" gardening books to organic methods, it can be frustrating to have to constantly think about organic fertilizers that might compare to the chemical fertilizers being recommended, or to do additional research regarding pest control, because the author suggests relying on insecticides. It is my hope that the market for crop-specific books targeted to organic gardeners will continue to grow.

Another aspect of the book that I really appreciate is the author sharing his experiences with various experiments he has conducted over the years. I enjoyed these sections of the book for a couple of reasons. The first is that these experiments by the author show his passion for not only growing garlic, but for better understanding the plants and how various variables impact their development. From a more practical standpoint, I am grateful for this information so that I may consider his findings in my plans for next year's crop of garlic. I do hope that a newer edition of the book is eventually released, as I'm sure the author has conducted additional experiments since the book was published that would provide even more useful information to readers.

One issue that I should mention with this book is that, because much of the information presented is based on the author's own experiences, variations in climate must be taken into account. The author's farm, Filaree Garlic Farm, is based in Northern Washington, which has a very different climate than my location. The author does often point out that results will vary in different climates, and even talks about differences between his results and those of other growers in his area. Short of finding a book written by a local grower, however, I don't see any way to avoid this issue. Experiences are always going to be climate dependent, and we, as gardeners, have to learn to adjust for those differences. I am just grateful that the author provides detailed information on his specific situation, so that it is easier to understand what adjustments might be required.

I learned several things from reading this book and am eager to put them to practice in a few months when we plant our next garlic crop. I hope to combine what I have learned from my own experience with growing garlic with what I've learned from this book, and, hopefully, what I'll learn from the other book on the subject I have, if I get around to reading it in time. While I don't necessarily expect to ever become a major garlic grower, I do, at times, toy with the idea of eventually trying to grow enough garlic to not only fill my own needs, but to also sell some garlic at local farmer's markets and possibly to a restaurant and retail store or two. I'm always disappointed by the lack of variety available, even in stores such as Happy Meadows Natural Foods in Berea and the Good Food Market in Lexington, and would like to be able to do something to address that.

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