Hale and Hearty: Growing Garlic with Kalan and Cam Redwood of Redwood Seeds

In the wind and rain of the last week, I came down with quite a cold/flu and have been suffering the effects for several achey days. So it seems fortuitous and right somehow that this week’s In a North State Garden focuses on garlic – that icon of health and fortitude, that banisher of bad spirits and bad germs (to say nothing of vampires). Specifically, this week’s piece profiles Kalan and Cam Redwood of Redwood Seeds, which, among many other interesting seed crops, grow 14 different varieties of garlic locally here in the North State. ‘Grown locally’ being a fact which only strengthens the power and efficacy of any fruit, vegetable or medicinal herb’s beneficial properties, due in part to increased freshness. Photo: Allium sativum sativuum ‘Silver White’ a common, softneck variety of garlic.

Kalan and Cam Redwood are the founders and owners of Redwood Seeds in Manton, specializing in the production of quality seed often for unusual fruit, vegetable and medicinal herb varieties. Kalan, who is a native of the Redding area and age 31, and Cam, who is a native of New Zealand and age 37, have been working their 40 acres since 2006. Only a portion of the farm is under cultivation so that crops can be spread out enough to ensure isolation and the integrity of the seeds produced – disallowing unintended crosses. 2009 was the first year seeds were offered for sale, and for spring 2010 they vastly expanded their seed garlic offering. Besides growing for their own seed production, Redwood Seeds has grown for larger organic seed companies, including Seeds of Change and Fedco Seeds.

Sustainability is not just a talking point on this young couple’s seed packets, rather it is a quality of life choice that they model at many levels – from the seeds of things up, as it were. Redwood Organic Farm features off-grid energy sources, 11 acres of native reforestation and sustainable irrigation systems. “In 2007, we replanted 3000 native conifers in an effort to reforest after the fire that burned our land completely in 2005. Today, nearly half of these trees have lived through 3 years of drought. It is amazing how the land has transformed itself from charred blackness to lushness,” Kalan writes. Further, Kalan is studied in medicinal herbs and produces healing tinctures salves and teas produced from Redwood Organic Farm herbs. Photo: Kalan Redwood at work on the farm. Photo courtesy of Redwood Seeds.

As Wolfgang Rougle of Twining Tree Farm near Cottonwood wrote in the Spring 2009 issue of Edible Shasta Butte about Redwood Seeds: “It’s the first independent seed farm in the North Valley and as such it represents a profound gift of self-sufficiency to everyone in the North State.” Independent seed producers help to maintain and increase the genetic integrity and diversity of plant varieties being produced; local seed producers are far more likely to have seeds that are fresh, adapted and appropriate to your region, almost ensuring your success as a gardener in growing them, and perhaps even more importantly, your success in being able to save seed from the plants you have grown in order to grow them again. Many large scale seed producers, far far away from the North State, only grow limited numbers of standard varieties, they produce seeds which produce plants which produce sterile seed so that gardeners are unable to successfully save seed from generation to generation, and in many cases they sell seed that has been genetically modified with pesticides, herbicides and/or growth hormones, the long term effects to our food supply, our environment and our collective health we will only know in time. Photo: Garlic harvested and curing in the dry shade.

Now we can argue all day about the relative merits or liabilities inherent in mass produced seed. We can. But why? Suffice it to say that this home gardener prefers to find high quality, organic seed produced as close to home as she can. When she has the time and ability to save seed from her garden, she does. But when she can’t, she goes right back to the high quality, organic seed produced as close to home as she can find it. Photo: Garlic sprout, just up in the fall.

At Redwood Seeds, Kalan and Cam have been busy these past few weeks planting out the many, many individual cloves of garlic. These small individual cloves, nestled in the cool, dark nurturing soil of Redwood Organic Farm will swell and grow and multiply into many, many whole garlic heads by spring – to form the basis of Redwood Seeds’ seed garlic offerings for the 2011 season. Photo: While garlic will flower and “go to seed,” producing tiny fat miniature bulbils out of their flower stalk, when people refer to “seed” garlic, they are generally referring to planting one single clove of garlic from the larger head of garlic.

Garlic (Allium sativum spp.) is an ancient herb, records of which date back to 1500 BCE. Garlic has been used medicinally throughout the ages as well as being one of the oldest cultivated food and spice plants in the garden. All parts of the garlic plant are edible, the slender spring shoots, or ‘scapes,’ of hardneck varieties are eaten fresh or sautéed. Photo: ‘Killarney Red’ serpent garlic (Allium sativum ophioscorodon ‘Killarney Red’). One of the most widely grown Rocambole or hardneck garlics, the common name serpent garlic comes from the way the hardneck flower stalks elaborately loop around.

Kalan Redwood took time out of her Indian Summer days of planting to talk about garlic:

Q: What varieties do you grow? Which is your favorite? Would you recommend a different variety for the Valley floor gardeners? Photo: ‘Chesnook Red’ garlic grown for seed at Redwood Organic Farm, photo by Redwood Seeds.

A: We grow about 14 varieties. They are a mix of hardneck and softneck garlics. Hardneck garlics are typically your red/purple varieties. They are known for their pungency and large, easy to peel cloves clustered around a center hard stalk. They have thinner skins than the softnecks and as a result only keep for 3-5 months. Hardnecks grow best in colder climates. We love the hardneck varieties for their sheer beauty and culinary superiority. Photo: A hardneck garlic scape twirling around in the spring garden at GRUB farm in Chico.

The softnecks are typically your white garlics seen in the supermarket. They are superior keepers, lasting 5-9 months and are known for their flexible stalks that can be braided. The cloves can be large with many smaller ones inside like the interior of a rose. They do well in mild winter climates and would be the best choice for valley floor production. Photo: Freshly harvested and curing softneck garlic.

Q: When do you plant?

A: Now. Garlic is best planted October and November in the North State. Ideally you want to get it in after the rains return so you don’t have to irrigate. Photo: Tzan Turban garlic, thought to be a subvariety of the artichoke garlics. Described by Filaree Farms as a “really hot Turban, it matures early and should be harvested a week or so after the seed head on the flower stalk appears.”

Q: What conditions do you recommend for best results?

A: Garlic loves a well composted, well dug garden bed. We plant our garlic in 4 foot wide beds that are 50 feet long. Instead of planting in rows we triangulate the garlic to use the space efficiently. Before planting separate the cloves from the bulb. Do not take the clove skins off. Plant each clove 2-3 inches deep and 5-8 inches apart depending on the size of the cloves. Rememer, the smallest cloves will produce small bulbs so plant the big ones first the see how much space is left. Photo: Red Grain 4 seed garlic at Redwood Seeds. Photo by Redwood Seeds.

Q: When do you harvest – what signs do you look for letting you know your crop is ready?

A: We usually harvest the end of June and into July. The best way to know if your garlic is ready is to pull up a bulb each week beginning in May. When solid skins have formed and the bulbs have achieved decent size you are probably close. Photo: ‘Chopaka Mountain’ artichoke garlic, softneck garlic.

Hardneck varieties produce scapes, usually in May. Scapes are often called garlic flowers but are really clusters of small bulblets. If allowed to remain on the plant they will swell to maturity and can be planted to produce more garlic. However, these bulblets will only produce single cloved garlics the season after planting out. For BEST garlic production, snap the scapes off when they appear. They snap easily with fingers. These are very tasty! We love to stir fry them. I have even frozen them in the past and used them throughout the year. Photo: Garlic scape.

About three weeks after the scapes come off we cut the water to the garlic and let the curing process begin. When we are ready to harvest we water the night before and the garlic pulls out of the ground more easily.

Q: How do you cure? How then do you store them and how long will they store well?

A: We spread our garlic on the forest floor for 1 month where it cures slowly in the shade. Do not cure in the direct sunlight. Your garlic WILL cook. Photo: Pink Porcelain garlic clove and head.

Q: What do you love about garlic and being able to grow it?

A: I love the subtle differences between the varieties. They all have unique colors and really do have differences in flavor. Garlic is also a great winter crop. I love that we can plant it and essentially leave it alone for nine months to do its thing. Photo: ‘Purple Glazier’ seed garlic at Redwood Seeds. Photo by Redwood Seeds.

Not sure how early Redwood Seeds takes orders for their spring seed garlic – but I am making my list right now. You can find Redwood Seeds, and other Redwood Organic Farm products, locally in Redding at Orchard Nutrition and Wyntour Gardens, and in Chico at Chico Natural Foods. Cam and Kalan are also at several area farmer’s markets seasonally, including the Redding Market in summer and much of the fall, and the Chico Saturday Market in spring. To contact Redwood Seeds visit their website: www.redwoodseeds.net, or send them an email: redwoodorganicfarm@hotmail.com.

Further reading: some good books (available in stock or by order from Lyon Books in Chico) on garlic include:

“Growing Great Garlic,” by Ron Engeland

“The Great Garlic Book,” by Northern California farmer Chester Aaron.

“Garlic, Nature’s Original Remedy,” by Stephen Fulder and John Blackwood

Besides Redwood Seeds, another regional seed producer is Synergy Seeds out of Willow Creek.

If Redwood Seeds is out of seed for a variety of garlic in which you are interested, Kalan suggested trying Filaree Farm out of Okanogan, Washington. All of the photos of garlic taken against a black background in this piece were taken by Jennifer Jewell of garlic provided by Filaree Farm.

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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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