When most garden goods are nearing the end of their annual life, there is one that is just getting started–garlic! Garlic? You might ask, why should I plant that? After all, it’s cheap and small compared with other vegetables so buying it out-of-season probably has a nominal impact on carbon emissions. And besides, I have limited space in my garden. At least, that is how I felt before I planted garlic for the first time.
Five reasons why you should plant garlic this year:
1. Not all garlic tastes the same. This was a revelation for me. Grocery stores only carry one type of garlic, which I was satisfied with until I had my first taste of heirloom garlic.
2. Speaking of heirlooms, they have beautiful names. Wouldn’t you love to grow something called Georgian Fire or Persian Star? I have a soft spot in my heart for preserving heirlooms.
3. There are several edible forms of garlic not commonly available in grocery stores (see below). If you grow it yourself, you can try all of them!
4. There’s nothing else going into the garden this time of year. When garlic is ready to be harvested in midsummer, it can be replaced with other things that don’t require a long growing season.
5. It stores well. Garlic harvested mid-summer and properly cured will keep all winter long at room temperature in a dark cupboard. In fact, it will keep until spring garlic is available so you never have to go without.
The many edible forms of garlic:
1. The bulb. This is the part we usually eat.
2. Spring garlic. This is the young garlic that shoots up in spring. It is one of the first edible things in the garden. The young shoots are tender enough to eat and have a lovely garlic flavor but lack the pungency of mature garlic, imagine garlicky scallions.
3. Garlic scapes. When you’ve ran out of spring garlic and are waiting for the garlic bulbs to mature, you’ve got scapes to eat! Garlic scapes are the flower and stem that shoot up not long before the garlic is ready to be harvested. Like spring garlic, they have a milder flavor. They are more fibrous so you will probably want to cook them briefly before eating.
Have I convinced you to plant some garlic? If you’ve read this far you must at least be considering it. Here’s how to grow garlic:
Guide to growing garlic:
1. Garlic should be planted in the fall sometime after the first light frost. October is a good time for many in Northern areas.
2. Plant cloves 2 inches apart if you plan to harvest some for spring garlic, or plant 6-8 inches apart for mature garlic only.
3. Do not separate the cloves in the bulb until ready to plant and do not remove the skin. Plant cloves pointed end up 2 inches deep. Cover with a thick layer of mulch (about 6 inches).
4. You may see shoots emerge before winter sets in. In the spring, leave the mulch on the garlic. Throughout spring, pick young shoots for spring garlic.
5. If you stop watering in early June, this will help the plant to form a larger bulb and it will be easier to harvest. While ideal, I have discovered this is not critical because we have a drip irrigation system and cannot turn off a section of it so the garlic continues to be watered right up until we pick it and it is still good!
6. The scapes, or flower shoot up not long before harvest time. Regardless of whether you want to eat them, cut off the scape when it is about 10 inches long as this will promote bulb growth.
7. Harvest after leaves begin to die but do not wait too long or the cloves will separate in the ground. Carefully dig up the garlic and brush off most of the dirt.
8. Hang to dry in a ventilated area out of direct light for 4-6 weeks. This is what is often referred to as “curing”. The curing process enhances the flavor of the garlic and allows it to last longer. Cured garlic bulbs stored in a dark cupboard at room temperature will keep until the following June.
Note that garlic is naturally a perennial. I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to just try establishing a garlic patch that I can harvest a little from every year. I’ll let you know how that works out.