GROWING GARLIC TAKES PATIENCE
Garlic is a great plant to have in your garden for a lot of reasons. Some say it repels vampires. And according to Jewish proverb, “a nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat!”
Silly, maybe, but it is true that garlic is a natural repellent. It chases away many insects, and is a natural fungicide. Garlic also has many genuine medicinal uses. Garlic contains a chemical called allicin which is an antibiotic that fights viruses, fungal infections, and parasites, lowers cholesterol, inhibits blood clots, regulates blood sugars, and helps prevent heart attacks. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests rubbing raw garlic on an insect bite to relieve the sting or itch.
Did we mention it’s great for cooking?
Garlic (Allium sativum) is used by almost every culture in the world, and is perhaps the most universally grown seasoning. A member of the onion family, garlic is believed to have originated somewhere in Central Asia and migrated from there to, well . . . everywhere.
Not just a kitchen herb. Garlic has an amazing number of medical uses.
Types of Garlic
There are two basic types of garlic: Hardneck and Softneck.
Hardneck varieties send up a hard flower stalk (called the “neck” or “scape”) that loops tightly near the top. Hardnecks do not produce a ball-like grouping of cloves like softneck varieties do, but rather grow in a single ring called a “round.” Most hardneck garlics require longer, cold winters than we experience in North Texas and are better suited to northern regions, writes local gardening author Ann McCormick.
Garlic that grows in a single ring around the stalk is called a “round.”
Texas gardeners should choose from Softneck varieties. Less winter hardy, they offer a stronger, more intense flavor than hardnecks. As their name suggests, softnecks have necks that stay soft after harvest. These are the types that you see braided.
Softnecks produce 10 to 20 cloves with a pink tinge surrounded by a silvery skin. Look for varieties such as ‘California Early,’ ‘California Late,’ ‘Silverwhite,’ or ‘Silverskin.’ These are easy varieties to grow and store.
Softneck garlic commonly has a pink or purple tinge. Cloves grow in a tight, irregular grouping.
Two other members of the onion family, Great-headed (Elephant) garlic and Society Garlic, are not true garlic varieties.
Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is actually more closely related to the leek as well as much less cold hardy. The Old Farmer’s Almanac describes the taste as more like an onion. Bulbs and cloves are large, with about 4 cloves to a bulb.
Despite its name, Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is also not a true garlic. The thick white tuberous roots smell like garlic but do not form cloves. Society Garlic grows in a tight cluster and produces small strap leaves from a basal sheath that look very much like green onions.
One thing Society Garlic has in common with true garlics is that it helps ward off insects and disease. Since it has a similar pungent aroma and natural anti-fungal properties as true garlic, it makes a great companion for many plants in your garden. Plant it with your roses to systemically prevent blackspot, and repel chewing insects, deer, cats, and other critters.
“Society” garlic gets its name from the mild garlic flavor of the leaves, which makes the eater more acceptable in polite society. But it probably won’t help you find a subway seat.
Avoid Grocery Store Garlic
When buying garlic to plant, avoid the grocery store. Grocery store varieties may not be suitable to our area, and Homegrown magazine warns that most grocery store plants have been sprayed to keep them from sprouting. Grocery store garlic may also carry fungal diseases, such as White Rot or Basal Rot. While these will not harm humans or pets, they may cause the bulb to rot in the ground and infect your soil for years to come.
Marshall Grain carries only plants that have been inspected for and are free of such diseases.
When to Plant
Fall is the time to plant garlic. And the sooner the better. Cloves should be in the ground by October 1.
October 1: is the traditional date for North Texas says the Dallas Morning News, but generally speaking you can plant anytime between mid-September and mid-October. Just make sure that when you plant, the soil temperature is still above 85 degrees.
Garlic is easy to grow but takes a long time to mature — two full years when started from seed. That’s why most people plant from bulbs, which can be harvested in eight to nine months.
Fall planting gives garlic the extra time it needs to take root, send up its leaves, and take hold before winter, explains local farmer-writer, Marshall Hinsley. And because in Texas garlic grows all through the winter, planting in the fall ensures that your bulbs will be bigger and more flavorful when you harvest the next summer.
Where to Plant
Full sun. Your main goal is to provide full sun (6 to 8 hours per day) while making sure garlic roots stay cool. Hot soil forces the garlic to mature faster and results in smaller bulbs. Once soil reaches 90ºF, growth will halt.
If possible, choose a site that provides morning sun and afternoon shade. You can create artificial shade using commercial shade cloth, which Marshall Grain sells. Or use your other, larger plants to help shade it.
Instead of planting it in a dedicated vegetable bed, try putting garlic in your flowerbeds. Garlic’s long stock with a lavender ball-shaped flower adds attractive winter color to any bed. And as noted above, it’s an excellent companion plant.
Garlic produces a pretty flower stalk and leafy green foliage that stands out in your garden while protecting your other plants from pests and diseases.
Well-drained soil. Garlic can easily rot in our heavy clay soils. Garlic roots extend below the bulb and the bulb itself needs to be able to expand in the soil as it grows. This requires loose, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH — somewhere between 6.2 and 6.8.
Avoid soil-borne diseases by rotating your plantings. Don’t plant in the same spot where it or other members of the Allium family (onions, shallots, leeks) have grown in the last two years.
How to Plant
The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends that you “crack” the garlic bulb to separate the cloves a few days before planting. However, most experts say cracking should be done no sooner than a day or two before planting and can be done the same day.
After cracking remove any remaining paper covering. Undersized cloves should be tossed out as they will produce puny heads.
Garlic should be planted about 2 inches deep with the pointed end up.
Plant point up: The bottom basil plate should face down with the pointy end up. Place cloves about 2 inches deep about 6 inches apart. Push the composted dirt over the planted cloves, give them a good drink of water.
Mulch your garlic well to keep the soil cool longer, improve moisture retention, and continuously return organic matter to the soil.
Care and Maintenance
Pests: Since it is a natural repellent, garlic has few problems. The worst pests are usually rodents such as moles, gophers and mice, which will eat garlic under the ground! If you have a motivated cat like our store cat, Callie, you’re in luck. Otherwise, you may need to apply one of Marshall Grain’s castor-oil-based mole repellents to control them.
Winter Weather: Young shoots can’t survive in temps below 20°F on their own, so you’ll need to cover them if temperatures threaten to dip below that point.
Watering: Once the cloves are planted, keep the soil moist but not soggy until the tips break the surface. After that, water deeply but infrequently to encourage deep root growth. Generally, about 1 inch of water about once a week is about right. In late spring after the stalks are at full height (2 to 3 feet for most varieties), stop watering. During the last few weeks the bulbs are segmenting and the outer wrapper is drying out. Too much water during this critical time can encourage mold and will shorten the life of harvested heads.
Weeding: Garlic competes poorly with weeds. Weeds can reduce yield by over 50%, notes Grey Duck Garlic Farm. Make sure you keep them under control with pulling or horticultural vinegar.
Fertilization: The best thing to do is to mix some high-quality, all-purpose fertilizer into your soil at planting time. Use a balanced fertilizer, such as Espoma Plant-tone (5-3-3)
Mulch should be removed in the spring after the threat of frost has passed.
How to tell when they’re ready to harvest
In late April or May, the garlic will send up a scape, which is a false seed head. Scapes can be left on or removed. Removing scapes may result in bigger garlic bulbs since the plant then devotes all its energy to the bulb. Many people consider scapes to be a culinary delicacy with a mild garlic flavor, so you might want to toss it into your vegetable soup!
Hot weather triggers head formation and the end of the life cycle. Garlic is ready to harvest when the lower leaves turn yellow. Dig up one or two plants to see if the heads have matured and are segmented into cloves. If you see only one large clove (known as a “round”), or very little segmentation, the garlic probably needs more time. If the leaves and stems become completely yellowed, harvest immediately. Heads left too long in the soil lose their tight outer sheath and their flavor!
Garlic is delicate. Carefully lift the bulbs with a spade or garden fork. Work around the edges of the plants, taking care not to bruise or cut the heads. Yanking them out of the ground may leave you with a stem in your hand.
Remove loose soil from bulbs. Trim excess roots, leaving about ¼ inch. Excess roots can prevent drying or cause rot. Leaves and stalks should be left on until after the bulb is cured so that pathogens cannot enter through the cut stem of the bulb.
Important: Garlic can sunburn. When harvesting garlic bulbs make sure to take them out of the sunlight and put in a shaded area.
Curing Is Required
Garlic must be cured properly before eating or storing. Improperly cured garlic will rot quickly and you won’t get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Curing also removes the green garlic taste and adds a more complex flavor to the bulb.
Curing takes about 4 to 6 weeks. Bulbs and stalks can be hung or placed on racks and stored in any cool, well-ventilated shady spot or even in a closet or pantry.
You might want to use a fan to help circulate the air. This is especially necessary when the weather is hot and humid to prevent the garlic from rotting.
If roots have not shriveled within a few days to a week or if you are noticing a slightly sour smell like fermenting vegetation (or silage) it means that conditions are poor for drying and plants are not curing properly and you need to increase the drying speed. Spread them further apart and improve air circulation.
The bulbs are cured and ready to store when the wrappers are dry and papery and the roots are dry. The root crown should be hard, and the cloves can be cracked apart easily.
The best method is to store them in a dry, airy container, such as a terra cotta jar with ventilation holes. You can also store them individually with the tops removed, or braid them together and hang them up.
Don’t store it in the refrigerator as this will encourage sprouting.
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