Garlic is inexpensive at the grocery store.
But consider this: Garlic is also really easy to grow. And if you’ve been disappointed one time too many by dried-out, tasteless cloves from a grocery-store garlic bulb, it may be time to grow your own. And it’s the right time to get started: For larger bulbs, garlic should be planted now so you can enjoy that garlicky goodness next summer.
Garlic (Allium sativum) has been grown for thousands of years for its culinary and medicinal properties. Garlic can lower high blood pressure and suppress the harmful effects of LDL, or bad cholesterol. Egyptians worshiped garlic and placed clay models of garlic bulbs in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Garlic was so highly prized that it was even used as currency. Folklore holds that garlic repelled vampires, protected against the evil eye, and warded off jealous nymphs said to terrorize pregnant women.
Garlic comes in two forms, hardneck and softneck.
Hardneck garlic is the hardiest form, producing cloves around a woody stem that send up a curly flower stalk. This is the most cold-hardy garlic, with a milder flavor.
Softneck garlic forms cloves around a soft neck or stem, which braids easily. Softneck garlic is most commonly found in supermarkets due to its longer storage life.
Garlic requires full sun (at least six hours per day). It is best started by direct seed that can be purchased through garden centers, catalogs and online websites. Or if you have garlic that you grew last season and harvested this spring, save the largest of the bulbs to plant in the fall. There are many publications that encourage planting garlic bulbs purchased at the grocery store, but due to the likelihood of diseases being present on the bulb it is not encouraged by more reliable sources.
Plant garlic in early to mid-fall. Pick the largest bulbs you can find — the size of the cloves you plant will determine whether you get big or small heads when you harvest. Soil should be loose with compost worked in to support root growth. Mulch can be used to protect plants from cold damage during the winter and to prevent weeds. Spread 3-4 inches of mulch over the planting area. Large cloves that are clean, injury-free and dry; they should be planted so the tops are 2 inches below the soil line. Break open the bulbs and plant the cloves flat side down and pointed-side up. Plant 4 to 6 inches apart in rows that are spaced 12-14 inches apart. Do not worry if sprouts come up prior to cold weather as they will go dormant. Light watering should occur if the weather becomes warm during the fall but no water is necessary over the winter months.
When spring growth begins, water to keep the soil slightly moist and fertilize with a high nitro-gen fertilizer applied every two weeks until bulbing begins. Cut off any curly flowering stems (called scapes) at the top leaf to redirect energy to the bulb. When you harvest scapes young and tender, you can chop them into salads or use them like scallions when cooking. Stop watering when the tops of the plants begin to fall over and dry up, about two to four weeks before harvest, usually late June to mid-July. Many gardeners wait to harvest until about half the leafy growth has turned brown, usually August or September.
Garlic is more susceptible to diseases such as rust, mold and mildew than to pests. Planting areas should be kept free of weeds and plant debris. Rotation of plantings on a three-year basis will reduce the probability of diseases and pests. Do not plant onions in the same area as garlic as they are susceptible to many of the same diseases and pests.
Do not damage bulbs during harvest, as this will cause deterioration during storage. Remove any soil from the bulb and roots gently. Place the garlic with tops intact in a dry, cool, well-ventilated place to cure. Remove stems and store in mesh bags or braid and hang in bunches. After 3-4 weeks the garlic will be cured and will keep for up to six months if stored at lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whole garlic bulbs or individual cloves can be roasted to serve with roast meat or can be fried to use as the base for sauces, casseroles and soups. Another idea is to take a bulb, break out the individual cloves and place them in grape seed oil that stays liquid when refrigerated. After a week or so the oil becomes infused with garlic essence and can be used as cooking oil. After a month or so the garlic cloves can be minced and this garlic used in cooking as well.
Enjoy this healthy addition to your foods.