Due to the particularly harsh climate, in Iceland there are not many edible vegetables and plants that grow easily in the ground, but recently Hörður Bender, a farmer from the south, tried a new thing, obtaining a remarkable result: he started the first cultivation of garlic on a large scale, then managing to sell all the harvest on the local market, in a single day. The he told to the Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið Bender himself, who runs a farm just outside Hvolsvöllur with his wife.
Garlic is grown in various parts of the world: it is usually planted between October and March and is harvested about six months after sowing. For the bulbs to grow properly they need to spend a few weeks at temperatures below 10 degrees, but at the same time too cold climates can compromise their growth. In Iceland, garlic was already cultivated even before Bender, but in a limited way and never on a large scale.
In a November 2020 interview, Bender he had explained that he decided to devote himself to agriculture because in the tourism sector, the one in which he had worked for years, “there was really nothing to do” due to the coronavirus pandemic. He therefore chose to try growing garlic with the idea that he would get a higher quality product than what is usually consumed in Iceland, which is imported.
In the autumn, Bender and his wife had planted several varieties of garlic from Sweden, France and Denmark with the ambitious goal of obtaining 10-15 tons of the product by 2021. Over time, their expectations had been significantly reduced, and only one of the varieties planted produced a good yield of around one ton.
At the end of September this year, the garlic produced by the Bender farm was distributed in some Icelandic supermarkets, including those of the Hagkaup chain: “People rushed [nei supermercati] and the garlic sold out in 24 hours, ”Bender told Morgunblaðið. According to Bender, the bulbs in Iceland grow slower than normal due to the very cold climate, and this gives the final product a particularly intense flavor.
This year, Bender planted three times the highest yielding garlic variety last year: the goal is to achieve 3 to 5 tons of harvest by 2022.
Hörður’s is the first commercial garlic farm in Iceland. He hopes for a 15-tonne harvest next year. https://t.co/vl8BO2DkvE
— @Iceland_Review (@Iceland_Review) November 2, 2020
Although Iceland is located just below the Arctic Circle, its winters are relatively mild and summers are quite cool, with average temperatures ranging around 10-13 degrees and reaching 20-25 degrees on the hottest days. With this climate, only tubers and vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, carrots, cabbage and cauliflower can grow in the soil. At the same time, however, other varieties manage to be grown in greenhouses thanks to the exploitation of the geothermal heat coming from the natural hot water springs, widespread in various areas of the island.
An example of exploitation of natural geothermal resources is that of the Fridheimar greenhouse, about seventy kilometers east of the capital Reykjavik, where 360 tons of tomatoes are produced every year and are not only sold in local markets in the area, but are also served in various dishes in the restaurant near the plant.
Bender is not the first person to have grown garlic in Iceland, but he is the first to have started large-scale cultivation “seriously, or in any case in significant quantities”. The only type of garlic that grows wild in nature on the island is the wild one (Allium oleraceum), which is known for its very strong smell and also grows in various parts of Italy, but is still very different from what is used in cooking.
In some written testimonials of Icelandic history, which concern in particular monasteries in the Middle Ages, the so-called onion gardens, literally “onion gardens”, which in all likelihood indicated cultivation of chives. In other ancient texts, both garlic and the “union”, A term that probably indicated a type of red onion.
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