The waning of summer gets northern gardeners thinking about planting spring-blooming bulbs. This year, when choosing new ornamental bulbs such as tulip, daffodil or crocus, don’t overlook another bulb that will add amazingly fresh, full flavor to your meals. Garlic … it needs little space, it is easy to to plant, and … You Can Grow That!
You Can Grow That! is a blog meme that runs on the fourth of each month. C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening, started it to remind everyone that gardening is good for people. It enriches our senses, our food, our health, fosters friendship and increases ones appreciation of nature. Read more You Can Grow That! posts at Whole Life Gardening.
Growing your own garlic frees you from the standard white type we are used to grabbing at the grocery store. There is a wonderful variety of garlic available from many seed vendors and specialty garlic growers. Once you taste the fresh flavor of your own home-grown garlic you’ll have a hard time finding satisfaction with the store-bought type. The pungency is there, but it is accompanied with a sweetness that I’ve not found in grocery store garlic.
Plant garlic in compost-rich, loose soil in a area that receives full, or nearly-full, sun. Separate each clove from the main bulb and sink it so the top (pointed end) is about 2 inches beneath the soil. Leave about 6 inches of space between cloves. Mark the bed so you don’t forget its margins, mulch well – about 3 inches of straw is ample in my zone 6 Connecticut garden – and water deeply. If autumn weather does not provide regular rainfall then give newly planted garlic supplemental water, just enough to prevent the deeper parts of the bed from becoming totally dry.
Don’t worry if the garlic sends up green shoots before frost … this is normal. Last year Connecticut had an unusually warm winter and, as you can see in the photo below, my garlic showed green shoots the entire time.
Come spring, new green shoots will sprout up from each bulb. Some of them may send up flower stalks, called scapes. Cut these off but don’t throw them into the compost. Instead, dice scapes and sauté them in a bit of olive oil. The odor is intoxicating. The flavor is as well. Add some fresh veggies or greens to the pan for a taste of spring and your first hint of the flavor to come from the mature garlic bulbs.
Harvest garlic when two-thirds of the tops have turned brown. To harvest, grasp at the base of each plant and gently tug upward. You may need to carefully loosen surrounding soil with a soil knife or trowel, just take care to insert your tool of choice far enough away from each bulb so as not to damage it. Gently shake off as much soil as possible then lay bulbs on a tray or in a shallow cardboard box to cure. For more in depth instructions read the garlic growing guide from Organic Gardening .
Place garlic in a warm, dry, shady spot for a few days then gently shake or rub off any remaining dried soil and either braid or tie in a bunch to hang in a dry spot in your kitchen.
If you are willing to spare a few bulbs, you can separate the cloves and replant them in the autumn. But I’ll bet you’ll be so smitten with the ease of garlic growing and the flavor of home-grown garlic that you will want to give new varieties a try. Green Mountain Garlic, a source of organic garlic bulbs, provides a good explanation of the different types of garlic as well as how-to-grow, harvest, and use home-grown garlic, another You Can Grow That! plant.