Monday, June 14, 2010

Garlic Conundrum

6/14/10 - 2nd Day - Morning. Greetings y'all. No pics today, because I haven't been out and about much over the weekend, and the gardens look ugly because we are in the middle of replanting after the garlic harvest. Tomorrow I hope to have pics for you from our bean field which has sprouted nicely (WE NEED RAIN!), and maybe some others as well.

I haven't decided yet, but I am trying to determine whether I should sell most of my garlic this year. Here is the deal - the garlic growing project- now over two years old - is going very, very well. We have determined that growing garlic is going to be a good and profitable venture for us. We need more beds and more capacity, but we have determined that garlic is going to be a winner. I like the fact that it is basically a winter crop. You plant it in the fall after your regular garden is done, and it grows all by itself all winter, and then you harvest it in June - which still leaves you plenty of time for a good summer crop. I really like that idea. I also like that our weather/temperatures in spring/summer are almost perfect for drying and curing the garlic we grow. We really don't need any special facilities or storage expenses. We don't need air conditioning, and the garlic doesn't take up room in the root cellar. Eventually I will build (Lord willing) a drying/curing barn, but for now we can use the structures we have. I really like that the economics of gourmet garlic (as opposed to regular, store-bought, generic/weak garlic) seem to be a slam-dunk. Gourmet garlic sells for $16-$20 a pound compared to $3 - $5 a lb. for generic garlic in the store. And gourmet garlics sell out everywhere. I don't know anyone who grows gourmet garlic who is getting stuck with inventory. So there is a market for it. So here is my problem... the garlic I grow is PUNGENT, delicious, good-sized, fragrant, and did I say PUNGENT? The problem is that when I bought my seed garlic, I didn't really write down what kind of garlic it is. I'm pretty sure it is a softneck variety, since hardnecks don't grow well here in the South, and these are thriving. I'm pretty sure it is one of the strongest, hottest, and most pungent garlics, because I have eaten it raw and it is STRONG. But I cannot remember, for the life of me, what variety it is. If you would have asked me last fall what variety it is, I would have sworn it was Spanish Roja. I thought for sure that was what it had to be. But then I studied more about Spanish Roja and apparently it is a hardneck variety and I am almost certain that ours is not a hardneck. The experts also say that Spanish Roja just will not do well in the South. I don't know why I was soooo certain that my garlic was Spanish Roja, but that is what I remember, and now I am not sure. So there are a few things I can do... I can take some samples over to Bangs to the guy who is the garlic expert, from whom I bought my original "seed" and see what he says; or I can sell all of this delicious and PUNGENT garlic and start over with absolutely identifiable varieties - and do this right from the beginning. I am torn. In all likelihood, the garlic guy may not be able to identify the garlic because I am several years into basically creating my own variety because location and conditions actually change the characteristics of the garlic. He may not even know what it is. I hate to not grow this great garlic, because it is so very good and so unique. I'd hate it if I started growing a lesser garlic, just because I can identify it.

The qualities of the garlic: My garlic (We'll call it Bunker's Texas Pungencia) is about a 6 or 7 out of 10 when it comes to garlickiness, and a 8 or 9 when it comes to heat/pungency. This heat is very pronounced when you eat it raw, however, when it is cooked, most of the heat isn't there, but the garlickiness is amplified - so, for example, it takes about 1 clove to equal 4-5 cloves of store-bought garlic. If you use it in your spaghetti sauce, it isn't going to be too spicy for the wimps in your house. This garlic is to store-bought garlic what the sun is to a candle... there is no comparison. As far as medicine goes (and garlic IS medicine) this is the strongest garlic I have ever eaten. It stores very well. Last years crop, harvested in the first week of June, stored well into this year (8-9 months) which is remarkable for good garlic.

The biggest problem: As I said, gourmet garlic (and this means gourmet garlic for planting as well) goes for about $16-$20 a lb., which means to replace my seed garlic with a known variety I will have to buy my seed garlic at those prices. This is amplified by the fact that I have multiplied my own seed garlic by many times over what I originally bought. I intend to plant more than 11 full beds (several thousand plants) this fall, so it will cost me a pretty penny to buy more seed garlic.

I think the solution will be to keep a portion of my crop for re-planting. If I do this, I will just call this variety Bunker Texas Pungencia because I do not know what it actually is. In this scenario I will sell the largest portion of my crop and use that money to buy some known and identifiable varieties that grow well here in Central Texas. How does that sound? I won't have much to sell, but maybe this is the best solution. What do you all think? Any ideas?

Oh, and I'm also taking suggestions on a better name. Not for me. Mine is fine. For the garlic.

Garlickly yours,

Michael Bunker

11 comments:

Renée said...

Is it a 'rule' for selling gourmet garlic that it has a name idetification for the gourmet peeps to KNOW it is gourmet? I guess I don't understand the 'conundrum' part, since it's great garlic - grow it. Call it Unique Garlique.

Ryan Powers said...

I feel for you, but I have to laugh. You got into growing gourmet garlic to try and sell it, and then forgot to note which variety. LOL! That is something I would do, really.

The main question is: Can you sell your "custom" garlic on the gourmet market for good prices, even though you won't offer it as a recognized name?

Michael Bunker said...

Ryan,

Exactly. You know, I would have sworn up and down that I had Spanish Roja, so I didn't even sweat it. Then this past week I was reading about Spanish Roja and it says plainly that it is a hardneck and it doesn't grow in the South. So this can't be Spanish Roja. Major confusion. And I'm two years into this.

Renee,

I am pretty sure that the gourmet garlic peeps spend that kind of money on the stuff they KNOW. Most of it goes to gourmet restaurants. The thing is, it is night and day different than what people think of when they think of garlic. Not even close. So my guess is that it would be difficult to move, say, 300 lbs. of Bunker's Boutique Garlique. And next year, if things went ok, I'd probably have over 300 lbs for sale. So I have to make a decision before fall as to what to do. I'm thinking.. "split the difference". Sell some and plant some.

M

Ante Zivkovic said...

Heard they need some in Romania. Pronto. bad one, sorry. Seriously though, if you plan on selling it in the future, unless you have regular customers you are better off selling it all and count your losses and start with a better sort. Regular people buy "garlic", professionals buy sorts. If you were (considering the situation) in the business of selling dogs you'd be selling mutts. Now, mutts can be great dogs but who would buy a mutt? Thing is you will just have to sell your product as "garlic", but if Lord wills, you will meet chef of the most prestigious restaurant in the US and he will try your garlic, love it, and buy the whole lot for a huge sum of money.

IslandHome said...

Interesting dilemmma and one I'm also facing at the moment as I'm due to plant an unknown variety that does very well here and is very similar to your description - fortunately our markets don't demand that to know the variety name being more interested in whether it has been organically grown or not. Be brave and make up your own name - perhaps you could use a system that gives stars or something to rate its characteristics? It just seems mad to have to do away with a perfectly good crop that has started to acclimatise to your area - after all is that really not the true essence of buying local?

Michael Bunker said...

IslandHome,

Excellent points. I guess it gets down to whether I have the "bulbs" to go another year. Next year, if the Lord allows things to continue successfully, we will have 300-500 lbs. to sell instead of a couple of dozen pounds. That is why the decision has to be made before fall. I agree philosophically, I just don't know if it'll work in the real world. Thanks for the input though!

M

Anonymous said...

Michael,

Re: the below quote from your post....

"So here is my problem... the garlic I grow is PUNGENT, delicious, good-sized, fragrant, and did I say PUNGENT? The problem is that when I bought my seed garlic, I didn't really write down what kind of garlic it is. I'm pretty sure it is a softneck variety, since hardnecks don't grow well here in the South, and these are thriving. I'm pretty sure it is one of the strongest, hottest, and most pungent garlics, because I have eaten it raw and it is STRONG. But I cannot remember, for the life of me, what variety it is. If you would have asked me last fall what variety it is, I would have sworn it was Spanish Roja. I thought for sure that was what it had to be. But then I studied more about Spanish Roja and apparently it is a hardneck variety and I am almost certain that ours is not a hardneck. The experts also say that Spanish Roja just will not do well in the South. I don't know why I was soooo certain that my garlic was Spanish Roja, but that is what I remember, and now I am not sure. So there are a few things I can do... I can take some samples over to Bangs to the guy who is the garlic expert, from whom I bought my original "seed" and see what he says;"

Here is the first website I looked at and Ajo Rojo garlic (spanish garlic) is a hardneck listed that does well in the south, is/can be quite pungent, and is on average about 2" in diameter. Perhaps that is what you have?. The site has lots of other good information as well. Here it is:

http:www.gourmetgarlics.com/growssouth.htm

Regarding your comment, that you have several years into creating your own variety....do you mean that you've grown that same variety which has "adapted itself to your climate", or that you've tried other varieties, with which it may have "crossbred" or hybridized? If only one variety, this article talks of the adaption garlic makes year to year, and it's effect on size, flavor and pungentness, depending on any particular years weather conditions.

Your idea to consult the grower/seller from whom you purchased it is a good one, as they may have records of what they've sold year to year to keep record of hardiness feedback in your area.

If you end up not finding out what variety it is; I too think it would sell well with a description, claiming it's "gourmet" and a picture of it, with a statement that you think it may be "such and such variety", but you are not certain. At a farmers market, sample tidbits could be on dislay for customers to taste, but you undoubtedly mean marketing it via the internet. A farmers market comes to mind in reflecting on you saying you'd someday like to have a roadstand/visitors booth or building by your driveway/road to share/sell books and information and market food.

Sounds like great garlic and I pray for a resolution and good outcome for you, if you go forward to keep it and market it.

Beth

Michael Bunker said...

Ajo Rojo

You know Beth, it is funny but yesterday I was really stressing over this (I'll explain why in a minute) and I was walking up to the office and the word "Ajo" came into my head. I kept thinking "wasn't there a garlic with the word Ajo in it?". Then I was talking about it with Billy Bob and I told him I needed to look up Ajo Rojo because that may be it. I think that is it, but I am going to check with the garlic guy to make sure.

Anyway, here is why all the stress. I appreciate the many, many emails I received from people saying "don't sweat it" and "just keep growing what you have", but I don't think they understand the situation. Basically it is akin to us raising Pure Longhorn cattle. What if you invested two years in really growing a nice herd and you are on the precipice (one year away) from a huge money-making herd and some Longhorn expert comes in and says, "uhhh.... those aren't pure Longhorns". It's all great to say "Hey, yours are great anyway, but just sell what you make", but it doesn't really work that way. It could, but it would take a lot more work and miracles than I feel qualified to expect. This year is not really a big deal. We went from a few pounds the first year, to several dozen pounds this year. If I plant my best stuff this fall, and God blesses it, we will have hundreds and hundreds of pounds next year. That really takes a lot of work and time. And then to have 500 lbs. and maybe not be able to sell it... that makes you sweat.

However, if I can identify this as Ajo Rojo (and I'm pretty sure that is what it is), then all those worries go away.

In fact, I had written "Ajo" in my notes, which is why it is so providential that Beth would mention it.

I'll let you know what we find out.

Michael

Anonymous said...

P.S.

Here's a website with pictures of the center of hardneck and softneck side by side to perhaps help you determine what you have grown.

http:www.finegardening.com/how-to-/articles/grow-your-own-garlic.aspx

Hope this helps.

Beth

Michael Bunker said...

By the way, Beth got the website a bit wrong... here is the site:

http://www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com/growsouth.htm

By the way again, this is the site of the guy in Bangs from whom I received my original seed garlic.

Anonymous said...

Michael,

Thanks for all the feedback. Praise God He helped find perhaps both the garlic and the site of the grower!

To God be all the glory now and with the outcome of your crop!

Have a blessed week.

Beth