By Lois Hole
Love it or hate it, almost everyone knows the taste of garlic but few people realize how easy it is to grow.
Over the years, we have discovered that the secret of growing the largest garlic bulbs is to plant in late August for a harvest the following year. These plants need a long growing season - five to six months - in order to mature to a good size. You can also plant garlic in spring but the earlier, the better. They will not be harmed if the weather turns cold again; garlic can freeze and still grow when the weather warms.
Each clove of garlic grows into a bulb containing 10 to 20 cloves. The largest cloves produce the largest bulbs, so save the small cloves for use in the kitchen. Plant only the firm healthy cloves.
Garlic is so easy to plant as it is to grow. Separate bulbs into cloves and choose a sunny site in the garden. Simply push each clove into the ground to about the depth of your second knuckle, firm the soil around it and water. The pointed end must be up, or it will not grow.
If you’re planting in rows, allow two to three inches between cloves. Try to find a spot where garlic or other members of the onion family were not recently grown.
The cloves can also be planted in a flowerbed by poking in amongst growing plants. Garlic takes up little space while growing and its tall, onion-like leaves add interest. It has been reported that roses benefit from interplanting with garlic, but I have found that the garlic plants are often the ones that do better. This is most likely due to the sunny location and constant watering and fertilizing that roses usually receive.
Garlic is, however, reputed to be a good companion to other plants for its insect-repelling qualities. Scientists have been unable to prove this, but they do know that garlic naturally contains some fungicidal chemicals and feeding deterrents. A woman I know plants garlic throughout her vegetable garden and tucks a few plants in her flowerbeds. She uses no insecticides and has very few problems with bugs. I am sure that one of the reasons is the interplantings of garlic.
In the spring when leaves begin to grow, fertilize the plants with a high nitrogen fertilizer (fertilizers are labeled with three numbers- the first indicates the percentage of nitrogen.) Pull out any weeds to reduce competition for moisture and nutrients.
When flowerstalks appear next summer, nip them off to allow the plant to devote more energy to the developing bulbs. Use the flowers for a pretty and zesty addition to salads and vegetable dishes.
Allow tops to fall over on their own. Bending them down in late summer can cause new shoots to form and delay rather than promote early maturity. Stop watering the plants toward the end of August. Allowing the soil to dry out around the maturing bulbs will improve storage quality.
Dig the plants out and leave them on top of the ground for several days if weather is warm and dry; otherwise, allow the plants to dry in a warm, dry basement or garage. The roots can be rubbed off when dry if you like although it is not necessary.
Once your garlic plants have become extremely dry, store them in braids or bunches, or cut off the stems about two to three inches above the bulbs. Do not wash or separate cloves until you are ready to use them. Store the majority on slatted shelves or screens.
In the kitchen, keep a small supply of bulbs in a wire basket, garlic pot, or any container that allows air circulation. Do not keep garlic in the refrigerator as humid conditions cause bulbs to sprout.
To make garlic easier to peel, press against it with the flat side of a knife. And one of the best ways to counteract ‘garlic breath’ is by chewing a sprig of fresh parsley immediately after eating.