By James Wall
Rocambole garlic is a variety I truly love. It is a purplish variety that keeps well, and the flavour it brings to my cooking makes the food taste great. Tonight I did a french style chicken casserole cooked in white wine and butter. There was no fixed recipe. Just a bit of this and a bit of that. Simple clean and fresh with plenty of carrots, mushrooms and of course a clove of my favourite garlic.
Rocambole like its name has a rock like shape. It is a hardneck variety which means it contains a central hard stalk which if left growing can send up a flower head (which is sterile). Softnecks don’t usually form a stalk and grow in a wider range of climactic conditions, have more cloves and can last up to 9 months, which on average is 3 months longer than a hardneck variety. So why am I growing a hardneck variety you ask. Well, hardnecks like this Rocambole are very well suited to Victorian conditions – cool winters, damp springs and warm dry summers. Perfect, but the other reason is of course is the flavour.
In Autumn last year, I planted a good sum of these cloves in a bit of dad’s vegetable patch (thanks Dad). We incorporated some blood and bone and some chicken manure. They were well watered when required, and we got good germination and growth before the cold of winter set in where they really didn’t do much. I did give them a liquid feed running into spring, but wish I had done that a couple of times. Of course during this whole time, hand weeding needed to be done. From what I can gather, quite often this process is where organic garlic differs greatly from other commercial garlic, where sprays are used similar to those used in onion crops, where the seletive herbicide kills the weeds, but not the onions. we wanted none of that. Whats wrong with weeding anyway. It’s all part of the process required.
Running up towards christmas, we didn’t water them quite as often, and finally, after some 9 months, it was time to harvest these little babies. As you can see, some of the foliage has yellowed. Harvest too early and the bulbs are small and may not store as well. Bulbs left too long can start to split apart.
It was a really nice day. We threw on our Bogs Boots, and set about digging carefully. I say carefully, because after all this effort, now is no time to damage the bulbs with careless lifting. The bulb size was reasonable but the crop was by no means perfect. The soil is good for growing, but maybe if is was slightly sandier, perhaps the going would be easier for this crop, but who really knows.
Once harvested we get them straight out of the sun as they can get sunburn. We are also careful not too be too rough with them as garlic bulbs can actually bruise. Our heavier soil is quite hard to get of the bulbs, so I did rinse a lot of the dirt off with water as it is much easier to get it off now rather than later. Some people say you shouldn’t do this, but it has yet to be a problem. We then hang the garlic in shed for a month or so and then remove the roots and stems. You might even like to grade your bulbs like the pros, and work out which ones you are going to use for next years plantings. I have kept some of the really good ones for that purpose, because of course that is how a good grower improves the breed.
Gardenworld is very pleased to be able to offer Rocambole garlic for sale again this March and April (until stocks last). It has been produced organically by one of Victoria’s best artisan garlic growers. You can grow it or eat it, and they are available right now for just $4.40 for a pack of two bulbs – a veritable bargain after all the work you can see.