Garlic is rich in lore. It has been reputed to repel vampires, clear the blood, cure baldness, aid digestion over the ages. Today’s studies have shown is garlic antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral. And, it tastes great! Garlic has been around for thousands of years. It originated in Asia, was cultivated in Egypt and has been a Mediterranean staple for centuries.It is easy to grow and has few pest issues. All you do is throw them in the ground in the fall in late September/early October in our Zone 6 garden and by early summer, they are ready to harvest.
The clove puts out roots in the fall. Depending on how warm the winter is, there can be green shoots showing through the cold months. Garlic will be some of the first to start growing. The stems resemble onion greens. The garlic flower, or scape, has a cute little curl in it. It grows on hard neck varieties. They are great in salads. Harvesting them also gives you bigger bulbs.
You should choose the biggest cloves to plant. The bigger the clove, the bigger the harvest! Cloves like other root vegetables like loose soil, compost and steady fertilizer. Like carrots, radishes and beets, you can add sand to give a looser soil structure in your garlic bed. Compost and mulch well in the fall before cold weather sets in. Plant the cloves root side down, 1-2” deep, and 4-6” apart. For planting by the cycle of the moon, garlic should be planted during the waning cycle of the moon. For our Zone 6 garden, this is September 9-23 and October 9-22. After the greens sprout to 6”, add compost or fertilizer as a side dressing. Garlic does not need a lot of nitrogen so compost is a good choice.
Garlic is ready to harvest then the tops fall over and die off. They are ready to harvest about a week later. Typically this is mid-summer.
Be careful when you go to harvest. If you cut the bulb, it will not keep and needs to eaten soon. The garlic should be left in dry shade for 2-3 weeks or brought inside and stored in a cool, dry location with good air circulation. They can be hung or placed in a perforated bin to dry and store. Store-bought garlic has been treated with chemicals to keep them from sprouting so they are not a great choice for growing your own. A great option is to buy cloves from your local farmers market. You know they grew well in your area. Just separate out the bulb(s) into individual cloves and plant the biggest ones.
Distinguishing Different Types of Garlic
Garlic can be mild or hot. Elephant garlic is very mild and not really true garlic at all. It is a type of leek. It has a great garlic flavor and produces huge bulbs. The ones I am growing this year are from the previous year’s harvest.
You can tell the difference in the two by looking at the flowers. Leeks and soft neck garlic have a onion type flower while garlic has a curly scape flower. There is soft and hard necked garlic. For storing, soft neck garlic is the ticket. It is also the strongest flavored. Hard necked is milder, easier to peel, more cold hardy and the first to mature.
Everyone knows of garlic in sauces and on cheese bread. A couple of years ago, we tried roasted garlic. It dramatically mellows the flavor. I just put a few heads in a small baking dish, add chicken stock to just about level to the cut heads, and let bake covered at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until soft. It is a great spread on French bread!
If your garlic dries up over the winter, I grind it into garlic powder. If you have great tasting garlic that doesn’t store well or you have a bountiful crop, another preservation option is pickled garlic. Just peel and cover your fresh garlic cloves in organic apple cider vinegar. You can add a couple of hot peppers if you want to add some extra zing!
Of course, you can also add garlic to the tomato sauce, pickles or peppers you are going to can. You can flavor vinegars or oils by popping crushed garlic into them. Many options for utilizing your garlic harvest!