Garlic from Mount Shasta
John Tannaci and Kirsten Olson not only fell in love with each other, they also fell in love with farming. Starting with a homestead near the Siskiyou Mountains in northern California where they had a home garden, they found that they enjoyed gardening very much. That led them to decide that they wanted to farm on a larger scale so they bought Hunter Orchards, an existing orchard of peaches, apples, pears and cherries at the base of Mt. Shasta where they became full-time farmers. In addition to the pome fruit already existing at Hunter Orchards, they felt that they also needed to grow a crop that would travel well and settled on cultivating garlic. When one thinks of garlic in California, one thinks of Gilroy, about 60 miles south of San Francisco -- the garlic capital of the U.S. Growing garlic in the shadow of Mount Shasta took some faith and imagination!
Time to Develop Their Own Seed Stock
John and Kirsten had to start their garlic farming slowly. Since they had decided to grow the rocambole variety of garlic which isn't available from commercial seed stock suppliers, it took them several years to grow multiply their own stock to have enough for the following year's seed and to have excess heads to sell. Today they farm 1-1/3 acres and produce 3,000 - 4,000 pounds of garlic a year, all from their own seed stock!
Just Watch 'em Grow
According to Kirsten, growing garlic is a simple process. Individual cloves from the previous year's harvest are planted in October and left to winter over in the soil. By February (if all goes well and no blight has attached the seeds), green sprouts start to emerge and all that remains is to watch them grow. . .but Kirsten admits that a little tilling of weeds between the rows is also needed. By July, when the green tops above the soil are thick and robust and rosy red bulbs have formed below the soil, they're ready to harvest.
Go for Rocambole
Hunter Orchards grows only the rosy red rocambole variety, which Kirsten characterizes as having large cloves, is easy to peel and is very pungent. This rosy red variety is mainly used fresh, unlike most of the garlic grown in Gilroy, which is white and is typically used for processing.
Kirsten advises garlic lovers to buy rocamoble heads when they're available. Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, wholeheartedly agrees! A few weeks ago she made a beeline for the Hunter stand at the Market to buy arm loads of these rosy fresh heads, declaring them to be some of the most beautiful heads of garlic she had ever seen!
From early July to the middle of August, you'll find basket-loads fresh garlic at the Hunter stand at the S.F. Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market on Saturday morning. The aroma of fresh garlic wafting from their stand will lead you there. After the 6-week fresh garlic season is over, Kirsten will be selling "cured" garlic, heads that are dried to preserve them so there'll be garlic available after the short fresh season is over. She'll be at the Market until the end of September.
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