Just when you thought you could finally escape the garden, it’s time to plant garlic. This rite of autumn has been an important event in my gardening season for years, but this past summer, the garlic patch became more crucial than ever. That’s because I devised a method to make the garlic patch grow a bunch of other crops, too, without any loss of garlic production. I call my method: “Hurling random seeds at garlic patch.”
Last April, I gathered the seeds from countless half-empty seed packets and plastic bags and combined these seeds in a bowl. I tossed handfuls of this mix into the young garlic patch, hoping some of the plants would take hold. Throughout the summer, I repeated this procedure. The little plants took hold wherever the conditions were favorable and grew in the shade of garlic plants and each other.
By harvest time, my garlic crop was big and healthy, and between those plants, the ground was carpeted with lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, escarole, radicchio, beets, squash, broccoli and amaranth. After I harvested the garlic in July, the spawn of those hurled seeds switched into high gear—their status on the ecological ladder went from shaded understory to full-sun canopy.
The post-garlic garden became a dense and diverse ecosystem, easy on the eyes as well as the belly. Over the course of the summer, many plants went to seed, ensuring new generations will be ready to come up next year.
Of all the post-garlic plants, the carrots stole the show. They grew to be monsters, as sweet as candy, heavy enough to require excess baggage charges, and big enough to make a porn star blush. Clearly, the carrots didn’t seem to mind the garlic. And based on my garlic crop, the feeling appears to be mutual. The lush carrot foliage shaded the ground between the garlic plants, acting as a living mulch to prevent evaporation from the soil, while underground, the carrot roots and garlic bulbs seemed to leave each other alone.
Above ground, garlic and carrots complement each other nicely in the kitchen as well, something demonstrated with savory elegance by carrot mayonnaise. Although it’s not a true mayonnaise, carrot mayo fulfills the basic requirement of mayo: Namely, if you put it on food, food will taste better.
Slice your carrots into inch-size chunks. Bake at 300 degrees, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove, and while they cool, add a quarter cup of olive or safflower oil—to a blender, along with as many cloves of garlic as suits you, and blend. As soon as the carrot chunks are cool, add them to the blender and blend until smooth. The hotter the chunks, the more they will cook the raw garlic, which mellows it. Depending on how much carrot you have, add oil as necessary to keep a viscous vortex as the blades whirl.
When you’re done adding carrots, keep blending as you season with salt and pepper and, if you wish, herbs like oregano or marjoram. Your carrot mayo is now ready. Spread it on bread. Dip chips in it. Or wallop a dollop on your plate. Whatever you do with it, your first bite should provide enough incentive to plan your own garlic patch garden ecosystem. If so, then it’s time to start breaking ground.
Cultivated properly, any garlic clove can grow into a whole bulb. The first step in garlic growing is to locate bulbs of garlic you think will flourish in your area. The food coop is a good place to find proven local varieties. I look for garlic that grows into big bulbs with a small number of cloves per bulb—six at most. And I like my cloves to peel easy.
Generally planted in October or November, garlic will sprout roots in fall and begin its upward journey in spring. Garlic is a heavy feeder, so it will need good soil with plenty of nitrogen and organic material.