When I was in school, I used to joke that mosquitoes didn’t bite me very often because they didn’t like Italian blood. Come to find out, that wasn’t too far from the truth. Mosquitoes don’t like the scent of garlic that is emitted from the pores of people who eat a lot of it. And we all know that Italians eat a lot of garlic!
I love garlic – fresh, fried, or roasted. There aren’t too many recipes that I don’t add garlic to. In fact, I use so much garlic that I decided to plant it for the first time last fall. Well, the harvest came in a week or so ago, and it was beautiful! I’m so excited about my garlic harvest, I had to share this wonderful crop with you now.
Garlic, or Allium sativum, is a member of the allium family along with onions, shallots, leeks, and chives. It is a food that dates back before recorded history, native to central Asia and known to the ancient Egyptians.
There are two types of garlic – hardneck and softneck. The hardneck variety, which grows better in cooler climates with a true winter, has a stiff central stem. The softneck variety, which grows better in warmer climates, is softer and more pliable. It’s less hardy than its hardneck cousin, but it does keep longer and has a stronger flavor.
Garlic is known for its antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory qualities. Many people drink a garlic tea to get rid of a cold (see recipe link below). Garlic is high in Vitamins B6 and C, and is full of minerals. Using the recommended daily values, one ounce of garlic contains 23% manganese, 6% selenium, 5% calcium, and 4% each of phosphorus and copper.
Although you can plant garlic purchased in the grocery store, it is better to purchase garlic from a seed catalog. The bulbs will be larger and you’ll be able to choose from several cultivars. Most of my crop was Italian softneck garlic that I purchased from a catalog. In the space I had left in my bed, I planted a couple bulbs I had bought at the farmer’s market. The difference was amazing! The Italian softneck bulbs grew twice the size as the other.
Garlic can be grown in zones 4 – 9. It needs full sun and prefers loose, well-drained, loamy soil high in organic matter, with a pH between 6 and 7. Generally, garlic is planted about eight weeks before the first frost. Here in zone 8, we plant it October 1. Garlic grows very well in a raised bed, but you don’t have to use one.
To plant, carefully separate the cloves from the bulb, leaving the “paper” on the clove. The clove should be planted pointy side up about four inches deep (the tip needs about two inches of soil cover) and six to eight inches apart. As soon as the shoots appear, mulch the bed. This is especially important in colder climates because it will protect the crop from frost. Also, be sure to remove all weeds from your garlic; they will compete for nutrients and growing space.
Speaking of nutrients, garlic is a heavy feeder. Feed with nitrogen as soon as the shoots appear, then again two weeks later. Do not feed during the winter months.
If you live in the northern zones, your garlic will seem to die back in the winter. Here, I saw no changes. (But we don’t have winter here, just “not-summer.”) Don’t worry about that. In the spring, new growth will appear. At that time, pull back the mulch and feed with nitrogen again. From that point on, apply a foliar spray of 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed mix with 1 tablespoon fish emulsion in one gallon of water every two weeks. Stop fertilizing a month before harvest. Also, be sure your garlic is getting an inch of water per week in the spring, and stop watering when the bottom leaves begin to turn yellow.
Depending on the variety of garlic, as well as where you live, your garlic will be ready for harvest any time from mid-May to beginning of July. I harvested mine the week before Memorial Day. It’s ready when about half of the lower leaves turn brown while the upper leaves stay green. Garlic is not like onions. If you wait until all the leaves are brown, your bulbs will have begun rotting in the ground.
It is best to harvest when the soil is dry, preferably on an overcast day. Do not try to pull your bulbs from the ground, else the stems will break or you’ll bruise your bulbs. Carefully lift the bulbs from the soil with a small trowel.
Brush off the soil and lay the garlic flat in a single layer to dry. Be sure it’s out of the sun in a place with good air circulation. I placed mine in my shed on screens laid across saw horses.
Let the garlic dry three or four days before cleaning. To clean, I used a soft vegetable brush and brushed the dirt off. You will also have to peel one or two layers of papery skin off to be sure the bulb is clean. Be very careful not to remove more than two layers of skin, else your garlic will not have enough protection to store well. Also trim the roots to 1/4 inch and brush away any dirt from the root area. Do NOT wash your garlic with water! It needs to stay dry.
The garlic must also be cured and stored properly for you to enjoy it until the next harvest. That said, don’t forget to save your best bulbs for next fall’s planting! Choose the largest bulbs to save because they will have the largest cloves, which produce the largest bulbs. (What a glorious cycle!)
FROM GARDEN TO KITCHEN:
One of my favorite smells in the kitchen is garlic sauteing in olive oil. That’s a good prep for tomato sauce, sauteed veggies, or battered chicken. Try my Italian Butter Beans, Italian Bean Salad, or Key Lime Guacamole – all containing garlic. You can also pickle garlic to keep it for longer periods of time.
Here are some recipes that highlight garlic:
The ideas for using garlic are endless. What are your favorite ways to use garlic?