Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All about Garlic

I have some garlic bulbs to plant. I purchased these at a local garlic fest in late summer. Below is some of what I have learned online about this wonderful vegetable. I tried last year to grow garlic and lost the whole crop. I am not sure why and neither were the garlic growers I asked. So wish me luck.... it will be a good way to start our CSA garden for next year.

Garlic is a perennial bulb and garlic is grown as a hardy annual—hardy because the cloves are planted in the fall and must survive the winter; annual because it is harvested during its first year of growth. There are three secrets to growing garlic: the first two—planting and picking—have to do with timing; the third is all about careful drying.

Unlike other vegetables, garlic (Allium sativum) goes into the ground in late summer or early fall, any time from mid-September to mid-October. When you buy garlic to plant, you receive full intact bulbs, no different from the garlic that sits on your kitchen counter for cooking. (Except the kitchen variety maybe treated to not grow.) You then split the bulbs into individual cloves for planting; each clove you plant can yield a full bulb—or head—the following summer. Unless they are tiny, size is of little consequence; as you separate cloves, try to keep the protective papery husk around each one.

Planting tips
Garlic is best planted in full sun, in a bed about a metre wide. The soil should be well drained, and dug to a depth of at least 20 centimetres, then raked to a smooth, level surface. Draw out furrows of about four to six centimetres deep across the bed with the corner of a hoe. Leave 20 centimetres between the rows. Push single cloves into the furrows, about 15 centimetres apart, until the tips are barely visible, then draw in the ridges of soil from the furrows over the planted cloves to a depth of five centimetres.

Planted early, garlic may show a few points of green growth the same fall. In regions where snow cover comes and goes, mulch the garlic bed just before the first hard freeze. A layer of dry leaves (10 centimetres) is enough to keep the earth from freezing and thawing repeatedly.

Very early the following spring, garlic's broad blue-green leaves begin to grow solidly and by the end of May will reach a surprising height. Insects aren't interested in garlic plants, and spring rains are often enough to see them through to maturity.

A double yield: Garlic scapes in June
In mid-June, curly green pigtails emerge from the center of each plant. These scapes are hard stalks topped with tiny bulbils. All experts agree that it's best to nip garlic in the bud, as it were, snapping off the scapes after they have made a loop or two, to send more energy to the developing bulbs. The scapes' tender tops (as opposed to the hard fibrous bottom portion) are loaded with flavor. Peel and thinly slice them and add to a pesto, stew or frittata.

Harvesting bulbs
Careless harvesting can ruin a fine crop of garlic, however, and timing is all-important. Left in the ground, the bulbs grow overly large, and can split their papery casing. Garlic is harvest-ready usually sometime in July or early August, when the lowest three or four leaves have died back; that is, when the plant is about half green, and the rest is withered and brown. Loosen the earth with a trowel or spade to release the plants.

Storing garlic
Careful drying means good long-term storage. An hour or two in the sun does no harm, but after that lay the bulbs (tops and all) in a single layer—a propped-up window screen works well here—in a dry, shaded spot, such as an airy garden shed, open garage or barn; it's best if the bulbs don't get wet. In 10 to 14 days, they should be completely dry. Then, using secateurs, trim tops back a few centimetres from the bulbs, and gently rub the bulbs to remove dirt and loose skin. Store the bulbs at room temperature or lower, somewhere not too humid (and not in the fridge). Homegrown garlic is good stuff, miles away from pallid imports, and you'll be reaching for it often—for both flavor and health.


Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Very informative and interesting, Cita. You find the coolest stuff to teach us.

Phiddy said...

Thanks L3. I had to do the research as I am ready to plant garlic here and thought it might make an interesting blog topic too.

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