Garlic by Pat Abramson
Nearly half of the 1,000-plus research papers on garlic published in this century found their way into print in the last 20 years. Garlic has been scientifically proven to reduce the incidence of heart attacks, atherosclerosis, and high blood pressure. It is said to enhance one’s immune system and help with colds, as well. An average clove of garlic (almond size) contains substances equivalent to 100,000 units of penicillin: about 1/5th the average dose, without penicillin’s side effects.
Garlic belongs to the “allium sativum” species, which includes onions, chives, shallots, leeks and scallions. There are basically 10 distinct varieties of garlic, with about 500 different strains. Some are “hardneck” (bolting) and some “softneck (non-bolting),” which is the more common type and what we find at the supermarket. Both types can bolt and produce flower stalks if stressed or not harvested in time, though some of the lovely flower heads work beautifully in wide-neck bottles for garlic-flavored vinegars. Hard-necks usually have larger and fewer cloves. The “bulb” is the whole head of garlic, while the clove is one piece off the bulb.
Here in our area we can grow garlic year-round, though October 15 – November 15 is ideal.
Stick a clove in the ground, pointy-side up, 1 – 2” deep, add your marker, and forget about it! You can also plant garlic around your roses and fruit trees for better pest control.
In spring, hardneck garlic varieties send up a stalk or “scape” that will develop a “bulbil capsule.” If you cut the scape before it fully forms, your garlic bulb in the ground will grow a little bigger; if not, it will store a little longer. If you cut the scapes when they are young and tender, you can eat them raw or in soups, salads, salsas, pickled, etc.
Your garlic’s leaves will announce when it’s time to dig it up. Leaves begin to turn brown from the bottom of the plant upward. When only the top 5 or 6 leaves are still green, that’s the time to harvest. Exceptions are usually the Asiatic varieties: they need to be harvested soon after their lower leaves start to turn brown. You can dig down and look at the bulb after 3 or 4 months and if it’s not the size you like, just cover back up; you can keep checking every two weeks.
Garlic likes a rich, loose, well-drained soil. Plant cloves at least 5” or 6” apart, or plant them throughout your ornamentals, vegetables and herb beds, though not in the same area where onions or other alliums grew the previous year. Each garlic clove will produce a complete head of garlic some 6 months later. Separate the cloves from the heads a day or two prior to planting, and plant your clove, unshelled, pointy-size up, about 1 – 2” deep, and mark the spot. Yellow-tipped leaves in spring can indicate nitrogen shortage or simple nutrient imbalance.
It’s best to “cure” the plant whole for two or three weeks in a warm place with good air circulation. Then cut the stalks 1” above the bulb; you can bag the heads in netted onion bags to store them.
Planted too much garlic? Try the (believe it or not!) “40 Cloves of Garlic Soup” recipe so popular in Spain! Happy garlicking!