In late May, it’s time to check garlic for scapes- the young flower heads and stems of hard neck verities. I take time to remove them for two reasons; putting the plant’s energy into the root head for larger cloves, and as a delicious late spring treat in culinary delights. Garlic is a wonderful, easy garden food, and worth planting every year- though rotation is important. In talking with other garlic gardeners, I heard it said that garlic is sterile- that to try planting seed would yield little success, and bulb clones were the best way to propagate. Well, nature rarely makes herself sterile, so I wondered how hard it would really be to cultivate garlic from seed. This article is making me think a lot about cultivating my own seed grown garlic strains- but the road is a long one, which is why there is limited variety in markets, and why garlic festivals, where holistic new strains are often found, is crucial to long term viability of garlic in our gardens.
In the mean time, I keep happily eating scapes and looking forward to garlic harvesting in July. I’m also keeping an eye out for mature flowers on some of the plants which miss “de-scaping”. I’ve had one or two make it each year, and I make sure to plant the seed heads- as I do with all Alliums that seed in the garden. But the results are slim, and I’m not keeping track through the years as I could, but that’s also nature. She’s always teaching lessons if you take the time to watch- a long time. The garlic will keep whispering her successes in new stems, which are appearing in solo spots here and there around the two main gardens. It’s a passive experiment, and will take many more years of tending, but that’s part of the reward in growing things.
The other great late spring treat popping out in the garden is strawberries! Our patch here at EEC has been slowly establishing over the past eight years, and we’re excited to snack on down in this fabulous larder of fruit. The first thing you might notice from the picture above is the size of these rubies- much smaller than your average grocery store variety, but don’t be fooled by her compact couture, these tiny treats pack big flavor with every bite. I usually harvest about a quart full every few days to liven up pancakes, or more likely, scoop by the hand full into my mouth. My tenants always snack on them when they walk by the garden, which is encouraged, as there is so much fruit. It’s an easy way to engage others in the pleasures of tending.
The strawberry plant is amazing, and prolific, so make sure the ones you establish are good producers of sweet fruit. Some verities are for decoration only, and have beautiful fruit with no flavor. Mine came from a backyard raised bed in Georgetown- a south suburb of Seattle being gentrified by progress. The house was condemned, so the tenants offered up all their landscaping to friends. I came to help clear and load for someone else- and ended up with some great local strains of plants, including the strawberries. When you can acquire plants bred in your area, the genetics match the soil and climate, providing a better acclimation and survival rate.
These strawberries certainly reflect health and happiness- but it’s also good to note that this plant is a tenacious runner. If you plant strawberries near other plants, get ready for a constant battle. I placed mine around the base of my herb spiral and key hole gardens. At the time, the rock bases were built on gravel drive, so the strawberries were the only thing established at ground level. They also thrive in rocky, marginal soil, so it was a great fit- till the grass moved in and the berries began their campaign for space. When I pull the grass, I often end up pulling up a lot of strawberries too- it’s a real loss when the flowers are blooming- I end up pulling my crop! I’ve learned to gently pull the tall seed heads of the grass, and wait to do a full uprooting after the berry season ends.
Fragaria × ananassa is a runner- meaning it throws out tendrils, which stretch out about 4-6 inches off the main plant and re-root further away. They are reaching constantly, so you have to prune them back all the time to keep them out of other beds. I weed often, so it’s not that much a challenge to keep them at bay, but I did give them one bed, which was already struggling- and they thrive there now, which is great! I’d still recommend planting strawberries in their own space, as a ground cover. They are hardy, and can take more compacted ground. Sun is a must through, so shady undercover won’t host well.
I’m going to plant garlic cloves into the strawberry bed this summer, and I’m excited to see how the two work together. Here’s a great article on garlic companion planting which inspired me. Another wonderful piece of information I picked up recently is why the first June full moon is called the “Strawberry Moon.” I guessed it was a way to mark seasonal harvest schedules, and yes, that’s true. Most “folk” lore is based in very real ancestral knowledge, though not always informed, so make sure you research broadly, especially regarding “remedies”. Both garlic and strawberries are seen as important medicines across the cultural landscape, and they are easy neighbors in your garden, so establish them if you can.