Our Plant of the Week – Garlic!
Garlic is one of the main players in the planning of our fall garden. It has so many uses around the garden and in the kitchen that it is impossible to get all the information into one article. For those of you who have never grown garlic, I hope that this article will be an encouragement to plant garlic this fall.
The Plant we know
Garlic (Allium sativum L.) is a species in the onion family. Its close relatives are onions, shallots, and leeks. We are all familiar with the “head” of garlic that we purchase in the supermarket. These white paper skinned bulbs are usually dry, with no roots, and the tops cut off close to the head.
The heads break apart into cloves. Commercially grown garlic usually contains large cloves clustered around a central core of many much smaller cloves. Heirloom varieties usually contain 4 to 8 large cloves with no central core.
The tops of garlic are eaten as well as the cloves. Many people let their garlic go to seed to enjoy the flowers. Garlic grows well in full sun to partial shade. Most people plant their garlic in the late fall for a spring harvest. While garlic can be started from seed, the usual practice is to plant a clove with the sharp end pointing up.
Selecting which garlic to grow can be a challenge. There are several varieties, all with different characteristics and tastes. Some are better for roasting, some for cooking and a few are grown strictly as ornamentals.
Garlic is divided into two types, hard neck, and soft neck. Most of the garlic sold in supermarkets is of the soft neck variety, mainly because of its long storage life and because it is less labor-intensive to grow. Most of the garlic available in stores is imported from China.
Hard neck varieties offer much more flavor and a higher nutrient density than the commercially grown varieties. Hardneck varieties produce “scapes,” a stalk that grows from the center of the plant. If allowed to continue to grow, the scape will curl into a coil.
Garlic should be planted late November or early December in West Texas.
Plant your garlic cloves in well-drained healthy soil about 1 inch deep. Space about 6 inches apart. If planting in rows, space the rows 30 inches apart. As you plant your garlic cloves, sprinkle a mixture of worm castings and dry molasses into the hole to encourage the bacteria and fungi in the soil. Adding a bit of cornmeal may also help. Water the cloves immediately and then cover the bed with a thin layer of compost, no thicker than 1 and one-half inches.
The spouts should appear in about two weeks. When your garlic sprouts are four to 6 inches tall, mulch them carefully. We use straw to mulch our garlic because it is light and doesn’t seem to inhibit the plants. As the plants grow, we sometimes add more mulch to increase the thickness, especially if we are expecting a really hard cold spell.
If you are planting a hard neck variety, you should cut the scapes before they become hard, preferably before they start to coil. Scapes have many uses, particularly as culinary delicacies.
Care and Feeding
After your plants start to sprout, apply an organic foliar feed. We spray compost tea every two weeks until just before harvest time. Don’t overwater your garlic. Garlic can’t deal with wet soggy soil. Allows your soil to dry out between waterings. Stop watering about a week before you think you will be ready to harvest. On hard neck varieties, stop watering after you cut the scapes and hope for some warm, dry weather. Your garlic should be ready to harvest in 3 to 6 weeks after you cut the scapes.
The time to harvest will vary with the variety you have planted. The rule of thumb is to harvest too early rather than too late. A good signal to watch for is the browning of the lower leaves of the plant. When those lowest leaves begin to turn brown and die down, you should probably be harvesting your garlic.
Don’t pull your garlic from the soil. Use some type of digging tool to loosen the soil around the bulbs. Take care not to bruise or cut the bulbs. Don’t be tempted to bang the bulbs in the ground to loosen the accumulated dirt. Banging the bulbs can easily bruise the cloves and they can rot from the inside out. Gently brush the excess soil away. You can clean the bulbs later.
Garlic needs to be cured before it is stored. Curing doesn’t take much effort or any special equipment. The easiest way to cure your garlic is to gather it into bundles of 8 to 12 bulbs. Tie the bundles together by the stems about 4 to 6 inches above the bulb. Air circulation is the key here, so find a place that gets good air circulation and hang the bundles. You can hang bundles on a long string to maximize your storage space. The bulbs should not get any direct sunlight.
When the bulbs are dry, you can judge when they are ready by cutting the stem of a bulb about two inches above the bulb. If the stem is still wet, then your bulbs are not completely cured. When all your bulbs are cured, trim the roots to about one-quarter inch from the bottom of the bulb and the stem about two inches above the bulb. Now you can remove the outer most wrapper from the bulb. Taking away the outer skin will remove all the excess debris and soil. Be sure and return this material to your compost pile.
There are so many uses for garlic. Of course, culinary uses top the list. Garlic also has uses in the garden as a pest repellant. It can be mixed with compost tea or made into a spray on its own. Watch for many more articles on our website about the many uses of garlic around the house and garden.
If you have an abundance of garlic, a small home dehydrator can be used to dry your garlic. Grinding it allows you to make your garlic powder or garlic bits. Dried garlic stores well and minimizes the amount of space that your garlic takes in the kitchen. To store your bulbs, keep them in a cool, dark place.
Every garden and landscape should have some garlic. It has so many uses around the home and garden that it should be considered an essential plant.
To find out more about selecting and growing garlic, visit one of these websites.
West Texas Organic Gardening – https://westtexasorganicgardening.com
Hardneck Garlic – https://www.hardneckgarlic.com/about