Even though the soil and climate are fine for many varieties, commercial garlic operations are all but non-existent in Missouri.
Except in Texas County.
On Highway BB near Boiling Springs, Czech Republic natives Jerry Vyskala and his wife, Marie, grow numerous types of both hard-neck and soft-neck garlic for their aptly-named Missouri Garlic business.
“I’m pretty sure nobody in Missouri grows more garlic than us,” Jerry said. “At least, I don’t know of anybody who does.”
Before coming to the U.S. 30 years ago, the Vyskalas got plenty of experience with growing garlic on Marie’s family’s vineyard, where it and other crops grew between the rows of grapes. They now have a 300-acre tract west of Licking, most of which is managed for wildlife, with several acres groomed for growing garlic. They also have a home in St. Louis, where their children still live and where Jerry had a successful cabinet business before retiring about 10 years ago.
The couples’ connection with Texas County happened the same way it does for many other people: Vyskala enjoyed hunting trips with co-workers here for years.
“I just loved this part of Missouri,” he said, “and I thought we better start looking for some property here.”
He and Marie obtained some in 2004, and not long after that, the garlic farm was born.
“We had grown it before, but not on this scale,” Vyskala said.
The Czech Republic is one of Europe’s leading producers of garlic. Spain, France and Italy are also known for garlic, and strains have been developed that do well in their warmer climates.
“But the cold weather garlic tastes better,” Vyskala said.
MOGarlic grows about 30 strains of garlic, most of which are Czech strains well-suited for Missouri’s relatively cold winters. In fact, fall hunting season is basically planting time, and the garlic grows through the winter before being harvested in late spring and early summer.
“Each variety has a different taste, and each stores differently,” Vyskala said. “The difference in storage time can be long; we have one variety that stores only three or four months, but there is another type that will keep for a year – basically until the next harvest.”
Vyskala said the MOGarlic farm is set up to grow as many as 24,000 garlic plants in raised rows, but he prefers to grow only 8,000 each year, rotating the plots where they’re planted and putting “cover crops” in the rest of the space (like radish). This year wasn’t great for growing Czech-style garlic in Missouri, Vyskala said, as the winter was mild and the spring was dry.
“It doesn’t like that,” he said. “It needs at least 40 days of the ground temperature being at 40 degrees or less. Otherwise, you get fewer big bulbs.”
Vyskala said the No. 1 controllable key to growing good garlic is simple.
“The soil,” he said. “If you don’t have good soil, you can grow garlic, but you cannot grow it to its potential.”
To maintain the best quality of MOGarlic’s soil, Vyskala is a big fan of compost. He’ll typically spread a semi-truckload over the rows each year, using a specialized machine to pack it down over the top of planted bulbs.
“I’m proud of our soil,” Vyskala said. “But it’s the main thing for growing good garlic.”
Garlic is known for having multiple health-related benefits. Marie controls her high blood pressure by eating at least one clove each day, and Jerry said garlic’s antibiotic aspect is very real.
“If you eat one or two cloves every day, you’ll never need a flu shot,” he said. “But not that kind from China that looks bleached – it’s pumped up full of chemicals. You need to get natural garlic.”
MOGarlic grows only certified naturally grown garlic. University of Missouri Extension agronomist Sarah Kenyon and other experts annually inspect the operation to keep its certification intact.
The Vyskalas regularly set up a booth at multiple area farmers markets (including in Houston), but most MOGarlic product is sold through a robust online business. Along with raw garlic, garlic salt (made with organic Italian sea salt) and garlic powder are also available.
Vyskala said he and Marie are happy to help people get started with growing garlic, and MOGarlic even offers a “starter kit” for newcomers. While the business has a sizable following and lots of repeat customers, building more local awareness is high on the Vyskalas’ to-do list.
“We have customers all over the country,” Vyskala said. “We would like for more local people to know about us.”
“If you don’t have good soil, you can grow garlic, but you cannot grow it to its potential.”
For more information about Missouri Garlic, or to order product, log onto firstname.lastname@example.org. The phone number is 314-413-0426.
You can meet the Vyskalas at the farmers market at the Lone Star Plaza in downtown Houston on Friday.