“It is not a ‘garlic gospel,’ nor it is another garlic cookbook. It does answer most of the questions that no one could answer for me fifteen years ago when I began to grow garlic.’
-Ron L Engeland, Growing Great Garlic (p. xi)
Engeland is a content expert as a “founding farmer” at Filaree Garlic Farm in North-Central Washington State. This book, published in 1991, seeks to educate organic gardeners and small famers about best practices in garlic production. Although this is a broad goal and the content often leans toward farming practice, Engeland successfully delivers important information for the home garlic gardener in this enjoyable book.
Between the Leaves
The book is divided into three main sections plus a garlic glossary with terminology from “allicin” to “winter bolting.”
- Part I examines the different subspecies and varieties, botany (the clove is actually a specialized leaf!), and the history of cultivated garlic as it spread from the Garlic Crescent in Central Asia around the world.
- Part II focuses on growing garlic: from site selection and soil preparation to clove planting and ongoing plant care. Content includes signs of nutrient deficiency as well as disease identification and management.
- Part III includes information on harvesting, storing, and marketing.
Throughout the book, Engeland uses a wide variety of sources including historical information, expert opinion, primary research, and experiments he and his team conducted at Filaree Farm. He clearly states the sources of the evidence he presents. He also highlights when there are disagreements in recommendations, such as when to remove the scapes (“pop tops”), as well as what factors might contribute to different growers having success with varied practices.
When there isn’t definitive research on a topic, he introduces his recommendations with a logical thought process. For example: at Filaree Farm bulbs are harvested when there are six green leaves remaining on the stem. This is because they have found that each green leaf represents a bulb wrapper that has already decayed or is in the early stages of decay. By harvesting with six green leaves remaining, they assure adequate bulb wrappers to protect the garlic for storage, assuming three to four wrappers may be lost during cleaning and handling.
As 17 growing seasons have passed since publication, this book cannot be used as stand-alone resource for evidence based growing practices. Results of more recent research, as well as information on newer varieties, are essential companions to this time tested reference. The 2018 revision of the Alaska Cooperative Extension pamphlet Growing Garlic in Alaska (HGA-00047) meets this need, with information including data from garlic trials in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska.
Although the book has a lot of excellent information for the home gardener, a significant portion of it is directed toward farmers. Most farm-focused sub-sections are well titled so that the home gardener can easily skim or bypass the text, including topics like scale of production, grading, packing, and marketing. However, in a few sections, like ‘How to Harvest’, the text quickly transitions from generally applicable recommendations to information specifically for a farmer and back again. Although this make the book feel at times difficult to understand and somewhat inaccessible, the richness of the general knowledge is worth weeding though the farm talk.
To break up the nearly 200 pages of text devoted to garlic, there are illustrations, maps, journal entries, and even a poem entitled “My Little Clove.” Between this and his engaging writing style, the book is an easy and enjoyable read.
Despite Engeland’s farm being located in zone 5b in North Central Washington State, the vast majority of the information he provides is applicable to the Alaskan gardener. This is driven by his clear appreciation for ophioscorodon (hard neck) garlic, which does well in colder climates. He also makes frequent references to differences in growing practices in “the north.”
If you enjoy growing garlic, you’ll enjoy Growing Great Garlic. This book provides thorough explanations and answers to the “why” and “what if” questions you may have found yourself wondering. After reading this book, I am eager for my seed garlic to arrive in the mail and plan to incorporate lessons that I learned reading this book as I prepare the bed, plant, and mulch for winter. Although I got this book at a used book store, I do not plan on re-selling it any time soon. I anticipate this will be a well-used reference book on my shelf with many notes about my own garlic growing experiences in the margins.
England, Ron L. Growing Great Garlic. Filaree Productions, 1991.