Community gardeners gearing up for annual garlic festival

Milford’s community gardeners are gearing up for their annual garlic festival at the end of September.

Dan Rusanowsky, one of the gardeners, said he spent about five hours one day digging and cleaning garlic, and then, with other gardeners, setting the garlic to cure for the big sale.

The Milford Recreation Department's Benson-Crump Memorial Community Gardens Program will hold its Autumn Garlic Festival in the gazebo on the Milford Green in downtown Milford on Saturday, Sept. 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The rain date is Sunday, Sept. 28 .

“It has been a wonderful year for garlic, and four delicious organic varieties, including Music, German Hardy, Siberian and Elephant, will be available for sale,” said garden program director Linda Ball.

There also will be a recipe section with more than 30 free garlic recipes, plus garlic experts available to answer  questions on growing garlic organically and what varieties do best in this region.

Rusanowsky said it wasn’t the greatest year for garlic because it was a rather wet and cool spring, “but we didn’t do too badly,” he said.

The gardeners planted more than 3,000 cloves.

And these gardeners take their garlic seriously.

“It’s very regimented,” Rusanowsky said. “We mark off the whole area like a storyboard.”

The cloves go into the ground after Oct. 12 — you can plant until the ground freezes — and then mulch is placed on top. When scapes, another name for the garden stalks, start to appear on the plants in June, the volunteer gardeners cut them off so that more energy is directed toward the growing bulb. Those scapes aren’t wasted though. Rusanowsky said when seasoned and prepped, the scapes make a great garnish.

“There are 100 different kinds of garlic,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have a favorite — garlic is garlic and is a must in most of his dishes.

And sometimes garlic is great all by itself.

“The elephant garlic; that’s a huge clove, bigger than a Brazil nut,” Rusanowsky said. “You get an old cupcake tin, take the clove and cut the tip off, put it in the tin with a little olive oil and bake it at 400 degrees. You bake it until it can be spread like peanut butter.”

That’s just one example of the wonders of garlic, Rusanowsky said.

The festival will include more than garlic, however.

“Back by popular demand,” Ball said, “is the huge gourmet basket drawing that includes 10 beautiful themed baskets such as Family Fun Movie Night, Wine Lovers, All About Chocolate, Italian Pasta Delight, Autumn Home and Gardening, Everything Garlic, Beauty & Relaxation, Tea and Coffee Lovers, Everything Autumn and more.”

Seasonal vegetables and herbs will be for sale along with bundled autumn corn stalks and hand decorated organic garlic braids.

Bee keeper Ralph Harrison will be at the festival too, selling candles and honey.

All proceeds from the fund raiser will benefit the Benson-Crump Memorial Community Gardens Program, which is a practicing organic community garden in its 46th year of operation. It is located at Eisenhower Park.

The community garden encompasses 135 plots and more than 250 participants, including several local community groups.

“It is the oldest community garden in southern Connecticut and has been an active supporter of Connecticut's PAR (Plant a Row for the Hungry) Program for the past seven years, which works in conjunction with the Connecticut Food Bank,” Ball said.