For years we’ve been buying our garlic starters (and many other seeds) from Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa, a non-profit which focuses on preserving and distributing heirloom and rare vegetable varieties. Their items were very high-quality, matching the price, which we felt was worth it.
We’ve moved strongly toward saving our own garlic, and indeed most of our planting this fall was of our own stock, but we still ordered three new varieties from SSE to round out our significant expansion in garlic, and to add even more diversity. However, when we began separating these new heads for planting in October and early November, we discovered some problems with two of them.
Both varieties, Inchelium Red and Lorz Italian, were listed as softneck garlic. This class does not have a central hard stalk, does not produce a scape, and tends to have far more cloves per head. Hardnecks, by comparison, are the opposite (hard stalk, scape, fewer but larger cloves).
As we went through the bags, we discovered some significant variations in the structures of the heads:
As shown above, the Lorz bag contained traditional softneck heads (right), very clearly hardneck heads (left), and some very screwy mutant heads with small stalks and a cluster of cloves at the top (center). And these were not isolated, but pretty well distributed between the three types. The same pattern held for the Inchelium heads, shown below:
Now, if these were just for home use, it probably wouldn’t matter. But for a market farm, if these genetics maintain themselves, it will be a serious problem next year. At market, those mutant heads aren’t of the same quality as others, and can’t be sold for as much. Those apparent hardneck heads will be producing scapes that we need to look out for. And we have no idea if these are all really the same variety (I would think not, given that hardneck/softneck is a pretty fundamental divide in the garlic world). We’ll be very hesitant to save any heads back for planting from this stock, and that’s a significant loss for us.
There wasn’t much we could do about it. It was late October/early November, we HAD to get our garlic in, and there were no replacements available from SSE as all stock was sold out. So we planted them and will see what happens in 2010.
All the more reason to keep working toward saving more and more of our own seed.