'Bob Steffen's Hardneck' Garlic: Try This Drought- and Flood-Tolerant Giant Variety for Changing Climates


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Betsy Samuelson with 'Bob Steffen's Hardneck' garlic. Readers interested in this garlic variety can reach Betsy via betsy4589@gmail.com.

Floods, drought, ruined harvests; by now, many of us have experienced these, and we hear it may get worse. In previous posts, we’ve considered paths to resilience through soil health. But the missing piece in every resilient gardener’s toolbox is locally adapted seed, as this story, written by farmer Betsy Samuelson, explains so well.

Betsy's Story

Garlic isn’t typically grown from seed. It's grown by saving a few of the plumpest bulbs at harvest time, separating the bulbs into cloves, and planting those cloves the very same fall. Nonetheless, folks call it “seed garlic” and grow it each year to continue the existence of favored varieties.

If you search for 'Bob Steffen’s Hardneck' garlic, you won't find it, because I'm one of three keepers of this 80-year-old variety. 'Bob Steffen’s Hardneck' can be as big as elephant garlic, but it's much more flavorful and only has four cloves. The cloves are so big that to use a garlic press, you must cut each clove in quarters. It’s also super-easy to peel. These characteristics make it a real pleasure to have on hand. It never had a name, so we call it 'Bob Steffen's Hardneck' to give credit where credit is due; Bob spent a lifetime breeding this variety.

Bob was the farm superintendent of Boys Town from 1943 to 1977. He led commercial-scale organic and biodynamic farming methods in the Midwest. Bob Steffen died in 2006, and I never met him. But his son, Jim, and I served together on a local food policy council. At that time, I had been growing his father’s special variety of garlic for some years.

'Bob Steffen's Hardneck' garlic came into my care while I was working as the production manager at Bloomsorganic Farm in Crescent, Iowa. Diversity among varieties of herbs, vegetables, and flowers was our specialty. We grew more than 100 varieties of tomatoes and about nine varieties of garlic. Bob Steffen was a mentor to Bloomsorganic Farm owner Rebecca Bloom, and he gave her a handful of seed garlic 30-some years ago.

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