As many of you may know, one of our Farm Fellows this year, Zeek Lee, is quite smitten with garlic. Given that planting garlic is one of the last big projects of the year, I asked him to share some of the reasons he's passionate about this particular crop with all of you:
I fell in love with garlic when I smelled fresh garlic as I pulled it out of the ground for the first time. Garlic is the only vegetable that makes me smile when I see it growing in the field because I know that beautiful fresh smell is coming. It's also my favorite vegetable to harvest, cure, and process.
Garlic is medicinal and has a crazy amount of health benefits due to a chemical called allicin. For example, it helps in the prevention of common illnesses and some think that it can even help to aid your body in preventing some cancers. Aged garlic extract helps to clear your vascular system, reducing blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels. Black garlic has a whole other list of medicinal properties including prevention of common cancers that both men and women should check out. Google it. I dare you!
Garlic is one of the most profitable crops to grow, because you can grow a lot of it in a small space.
Garlic cloves need to be planted pointed side up at double the depth of their size -- if the garlic clove is an inch tall it needs to be planted 2 inches deep. If you plant an elephant garlic clove, which can be 3 inches tall, it needs to be planted 6 inches deep.
Typical garlic needs 5-6 inches of spacing. Elephant garlic needs 8-10 inch spacing. Plant in a triangular pattern and you can fit more per square foot.
Garlic is usually planted in October so order garlic online in August because you seed stock will disappear quickly by the end of September. You can also plant garlic in the Spring when the ground first thaws. It’s best to use black landscape fabric over your seeds in October or during spring planting to keep the soil warm and weeds down. A 3-inch thick layer of straw or 2 inches of leaf mulch is similarly good for winter insulation and weed suppression. But you will still need to weed!
Softneck garlic is best suited for southern states, but some varieties of hardneck are also good for southern states. Hardneck varieties of garlic grow curly scapes that turn into flowers. Harvest the scapes before they turn into flowers to enhance the size of the garlic bulbs. Plus, garlic scapes are great in stir fries. Softneck garlic does not produce scapes. Sad face!
Harvest & Cure:
To harvest garlic you'll need a pitch fork or a shovel. You want to sink your fork in about eight inches away from the plant to steer clear of the piercing the bulbs, and lift up the earth to make each plant easier to pull. Pull the garlic at the base of the stem but be careful to not break the stem. Pulling hard can break the stem which may cause future bacterial problems in the bulb during the curing process, resulting in little to no shelf life. Do not clean the garlic; just gently shake the soil off the roots. Be careful with the bulbs as they are very sensitive to bruising. When one of the cloves of the bulb gets bruised it will be the first to rot. All cloves next to it will also go, so use them ASAP.
Hang your freshly harvested garlic out of direct sunlight outside where it has plenty of ventilation. When all the garlic leaves are brown and dry, cut the garlic bulb stem 1 to 1.5 inches from the top of the bulb and store it in a dark room with ventilation. Store it in the refrigerator at a temp of 35-40 degrees for long-term storage
. Store garlic cloves in a ziplock bag or container of soil in the freezer if you plan to plant it in the spring. Like tulips, garlic needs a cold season to be able to produce a bulb.
Oh, I shouldn't forget to mention that I love garlic for the flavor. Did I mention that garlic is in almost every cuisine around the world?! It makes your food smell and taste better. Have you ever tried garlic bread without the garlic? Yea, not so great!
Hot tip: Softneck garlic is great for using fresh as a mince garlic or in dressings like Italian and Greek or added to a sauce like marinara and alfredo. Hardneck garlic is great roasted or sauteed. Elephant garlic is great for those who don't love the spicy taste of garlic. It's extremely mild in taste whether used raw or roasted! Also elephant garlic is not a garlic. It's in the leek family. Don't ask me why because it had me fooled too! Touché, Elephant garlic. Touché!