FARMING NOTES BY CODY LEE MEYER
INTRODUCED AND EDITED BY SARAH SCHULTZ
AFTER SEVERAL YEARS OF TRIAL AND ERROR FARMER CODY LEE MEYER IS GROWING GARLIC ON KAUA’I
BACK IN SUMMER 2016, on a trip to visit as many Kaua’i farms as possible, we stumbled across a Farmer named Cody Lee Meyer who was trying to grow local garlic. As most cooks in Hawai’i already know, along with quality cooking oil, sourcing local garlic is but a mere dream.
But Cody is tenacious and, lucky for us, never gave up. He took copious notes and , tried again and again, year after year, to find the magic formula. and he has had some success. Here he shares his edited notes of what variety seems to grow best on Kaua’i along with other helpful tips.
WORKS: purple stripe hardneck varieties like Metechi and Chesnok Red
DOESN’T WORK: softneck varieties (most commonly found in grocers)
January through June
Best performance was witnessed in sand mixed with compost; garlic prefers loose soil versus soil that compacts easily (like clay). Loose soil allows the bulb to grow easily.
Put garlic seeds in the fridge months before planting. I typically put them in the chiller/fridge in the first week of October. When the seeds (cloves) begin to put out roots, it’s time to plant. This can happen anytime between early January to late February. Each garlic variety has its unique awakening time in the fridge based on, what I believe, is solar declination. Seeds must be in a dark, low-humid, and cold (35-40°) area of the fridge for the hibernation period.
I usually layer garlic seeds (bulbs) in reusable black totes, with cloth and a cup or two of rice in between each of the layers to absorb moisture. Check bulbs once a week to look for mold or root development. Rotate bulbs in tote if necessary.
When roots begin to form, pull out of the fridge. Separate bulbs into cloves, then separate big cloves from small cloves. I suggest planting big and small separately, as small cloves will yield only small bulbs or a ‘green garlic’ for harvest. Bigger cloves equal bigger bulbs. Do not peel all the skin off of the clove, as the skin protects the seed. Plant the cloves roughly one inch into the soil, roots down, and cover gently. I plant them roughly one shaka-width apart.
After a couple of weeks, a garlic shoot will appear out of the soil, followed by more leaves in the weeks to come. Now, here’s the fun bit: You can let the garlic do its thing covered in dirt and harvest what’s magically pulled out of the soil, or you can increase bulb size by uncovering the soil around the bulb (but do not expose the roots), and remove the brown leaf that’s at the very bottom of the plant and peel it from the bulb every couple of days. This decreases tension on the bulb, allowing it to grow with ease, and the sun exposure changes the bulb’s skin color from white to purple. I learned this from one of our Filipino landscapers; she said that’s what they do in the Philippines to make their bulbs three times bigger. (Big thanks to her.)
Garlic does not like weeds. Weed routinely to make sure garlic gets all the nutrients and water.
Irrigate every 3–4 days during growing season (January-ish to late April), unless it’s very dry. Luckily, on Kaua’i, our seasons pair well with the garlic’s water needs. In other words, no need to irrigate if it rains. Garlic likes to be dry a few weeks before harvest. This year, I planted the Chesnok Red in mid- January, cutting the scapes and halting irrigation in mid-April. It rained a few times and when it rained heavily for days, I kept removing the soil around the bulb to expose it to sunlight. I believe this keeps the garlic from getting soggy underground and becoming moldy or rotting.
Field curing happens when there’s no rain for a couple of weeks and the garlic can simply dry naturally in the field.
If rain is on the horizon and you are satisfied with bulb size, go ahead and pull out of the ground. Store in a dry, warm area to cure for a couple of weeks. You can keep the leaves intact and the soil on.
Cut the garlic flower a few days after it appears. The garlic flower is strong and spicy, great for culinary uses. Cutting the flower causes the plant to focus energy on the bulb and not seed/flower production, which supposedly increases bulb size by at least 20% and retains the spiciness.
A bulb that’s ready for harvest will show dimples, which indicate clover formation. Some bulbs will be uni-bulb, or one giant clove, which makes peeling that much easier.
Synopsis: I’ve planted over 30 varieties of garlic since 2012 at five locations on Kaua’i. Hardneck purple stripe garlic varieties are the only ones that have worked consistently. I found they like a south-facing slope with full sun. Sand mixed with compost and red dirt showed the best results yet.
Garlic has a mind of its own and knows when daylight is getting longer during the winter and spring. Even in the fridge, it knows. It typically terminates by the summer solstice, too, which makes me think garlic understands an electromagnetic wavelength from the sun that farmers need to become more aware of. It’s a pain to peel back that bottom leaf every few days, especially when we’re talking thousands of bulbs, but it helps increase the overall size and harvest weight. Garlic has never been an easy crop to grow in Hawai’i, but it does grow here. I will continue to experiment with this crop until the day I die, not only because I’m as stubborn as they come, but I’m also always trying to plant the impossible and fill the kitchen cupboard with 100% homegrown ingredients. [ eHI ]
The edible Hawaiian Islands Test Kitchen received several shipments of garlic from Farmer Cody Lee Meyer throughout the 2020 harvest season. Instead of keeping all the garlic for ourselves, we shared it with home cooks, farmers, and chefs all across the state. We asked each person to rate the garlic by answering the following questions:
- General thoughts on the garlic appearance, size, and color.
- Thoughts/opinions on raw garlic.
- Thoughts/opinions on cooked garlic.
- Would you buy local garlic for your business?
- Care to share a recipe or how you used the garlic?
Sign up for our blog, follow us on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram as we trickle out comments and recipes from everyone who participated. Cody Lee Meyer Timbers Farm Manager Timbers Kaua’i Ocean Club & Residences 3770 Ala’oli Way Lihue, Kaua’i Hawai’i