Growing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland – Book Review

     Our new seed office is ripe with the wonderful smell of garlic!  Allium planting season is here and we’re busy shipping garlic and perennial onions.  All our garlic shipments come with a copy of our garlic and perennial onions growing guide, but if you’re looking to get more extensive know-how along with your shipment, consider picking up a copy of Growing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland. His conversational style makes this book accessible to the layperson while his wealth of experience makes it useful to even the experienced gardener.  Despite having been written over 20 years ago, Growing Great Garlic remains the standard gardening guide for anyone interested in the organic cultivation of garlic.

The Cover of Growing Great Garlic by Ron Engeland

     The recent explosion of knowledge and interest in heritage vegetable varieties finally seems to be making its way to the onion’s much loved but poorly understood cousin, garlic.  Garlic has found a place for itself in culinary traditions around the world as a seasoning, a foodstuff in its own right and even a confection.  If the produce section at the local supermarket is anything to go by, garlic is a forgettable, small and either gray or gray.  Its flavor is identifiable, but consistent.  It seems any head is as good as the next.

        In this 226-page garlic growing guide, Ron Engeland sets out to introduce the small farmer and home gardener to the many faces of this amazing plant.  The author introduces the main types (Rocambole, Continental, Artichoke and Silverskin) as well as his strategies for cultivation and harvest.  He even helps diagnose garlic diseases, pests and pathogens (from nematodes and thrips to botrytis and yellow dwarf virus).  When your garlic is ready, Engeland walks you through processing and storage, to ensure that your harvest lasts long into the winter months.

        Give Engeland a chance and he will show you that organic garlic can be an exciting crop of diverse shapes, colors and flavors.

Garlic Drying in the Barn after Harvest

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National Heirloom Expo

Squash cornucopia in the exhibit hall

One of the recent events that Southern Exposure attended is the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, CA.  This is quite the trek for us, but it’s rare to be able to connect with a group of individuals and organizations that are as passionate about preserving genetic and heritage diversity as we are, striving to instill a deep appreciation of traditional, regionally adapted food sources.

Our exhibit of heirloom tomatoes

Although we specialize in heirloom seed adapted to the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, when I set up our exhibit of heirloom tomatoes, I was pleased to see how well our many of our varieties do in this climate.  A big thanks to local tomato extraordinaire Tamara for generously providing us with tomatoes – with her help, we won 2nd place in the exhibit!

Sculptural muskmelon lantern

In our booth, I enjoyed talking with passersby about the value of saving your own seeds, including the ability to select the most desirable traits for your area. Many food advocates are beginning to understand the allure of seed saving: slowly, over time, tailoring a variety to have a unique profile of characteristics, including taste, appearance, resistances to disease, ease of harvesting and preserving, and the less quantifiable satisfaction of building regionally food heritage.

Multi-melon sculpture

We also staffed a booth for a long-time ally the Organic Seed Growers And Trade Association (OSGATA), helping to raise awareness about the importance of preserving organically sourced seed and the create a resilient and decentralized food system.

Giant pumpkin delivered via forklift

 As someone who has been intermittently involved in food activism for a number of years, I offered to do a presentation highlighting community models that are building the food justice movement.  The organizations that I featured focus on one or more of the following: promoting and supporting young and beginning farmers, building a local economy, using ecologically conscious gardening techniques, helping empower marginalized populations, and working to alleviate food deserts, which includes components of education, affordability, and proximity to healthy fresh food.  Special thanks to Renew Richmond, Allegheny Mountain School (AMS), and the Anti-oppression Resource and Training Alliance (AORTA) for taking time out of their day to do an interview with me, along with the Greenhorns and the Agrarian Trust for all the inspiring work they do to bring strength and cohesion to the young farmer movement.

Evan of the Farmer's Guild

After my talk, I was pleased to meet many speakers and attendees who contribute to the work of food justice.  I met Evan Wiig, who helped found the Farmer’s Guild, which is a network for young a beginning farmers who meet on a monthly basis to share knowledge and resources.  Only several years in existence, the Farmer’s Guild is already in 7 locations throughout Northern California.  I decided to hear Evan talk about the Farmer’s Guild, and was quite impressed – passionate and motivated leaders such as Evan are what we need to send the young farmers forward into the future as a thriving movement.  Cross your fingers for him doing a presentation at next year’s Heritage Harvest Festival!

Cathryn of the Ceres Community Project


Next, I met Cathryn Couch with the Ceres Community Project, which serves hot, organic meals to individuals and families who are dealing with serious illness, prepared by youth in the community.  The way Kathryn sees it, all youth are “at-risk” youth if they don’t find a sense of belonging.  Clients are often so appreciative of these meals, that they come and thank the youth who prepared them personally, and consequentially, some of the youth have participated in the project for four years now.  This is an example of how food can intersect so many areas – health, the environment, youth empowerment, and a social safety net maintained by community members, for community members, just to name a few.

Passing on the treasury of knowledge

Happily surrounded by heirloom enthusiasts, I met the expo coordinator, Paul Wallace, who told me about how this year they’re having the Education & Fun Day seriesfor kindergarten through high school aged kids.  There, they’ll have activities including “be a farmer for a day,” name that veggie, potato sack races, probiotic mud balls, seed ball making, seed saving, and worm bin exploration. He’s expecting over 2,000 kids from surrounding schools to attend.  Although school gardens are gaining traction throughout the nation, the effects of more garden based curriculum such as this could be tremendous, with more and more people of generations to come interested in and connected to their food source.

Ira Wallace, expert gardener and seed saver

Last but not least, I met Arno Hesse and Samantha Dweck with Credibles, an umbrella project of the Slow Money movement where consumers can pre-pay for their years’ worth of groceries from their favorite food provider, helping local food-related businesses access capital for growth.  This program as an intersection of slow food and slow money, where the vital backbones of a more just society – food and the economy – grow in tandem.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will be attending upcoming Slow Money Conference in Louisville.  Join us there to hear seed saver extraordinaire and co-manager of Southern Exposure Ira Wallace talk about seeds and diversity.

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Kids enjoying veggies

Little Elan’s enthusiasm for working in the garden is adorable.

He was helping us transplant broccoli the other day…

…and Fionn came to visit. We decided show him around.  We took a little walk with both kids in the garden.

Our cattle panel trellis with asparagus beans can be enchanting even for an adult, so we weren’t surprised that Fionn liked it.

Elan showed Fionn the Sweet Genovese basil.

…which he seemed to prefer over Dark Opal Basil. Or maybe he just wanted to compare them more closely.

Roselle leaves also made for a tasty treat…

…and ground cherries are Elan’s favorite.

The Perfection peppers were a hit, too.

When Fionn ran off between the tomato cages, Elan was holding a Doe Hill Golden Bell pepper

And later they shared it while they played on the tractor.  With our garden, it’s fun and easy to get our kids to eat vegetables.

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