I love the taste and aroma of garlic. Nothing else sets your mouth to watering than the smell in your kitchen when garlic is cooking. Not only does it taste and smell fantastic, it has a lot of health benefits too. Garlic is thought to have effective anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties, as well as helping to lower blood pressure, bad cholesterol and regulate blood sugar. It has been used to prevent cancer, treat skin infections, relieve toothaches, reduce plaque in the arteries, improve metabolism and boost your immune system.
Garlic (allium sativum) is native to Asia but has been grown in the US for several centuries, with the bulk of commercial US garlic being grown in Gilroy, California. China grows about 80% of the world’s commercial garlic crops, and India grows some too.
In 2014, I was shopping at a large club warehouse store in Erie, PA. I needed garlic so I reached for the big bag; we eat a lot at home. I saw the country of origin; it was China. What??? Why?????
Why was there “fresh” garlic in Erie that was grown some 7,000+ miles away? This was about the same time the world news was all about the Olympics being held in China and reporters were broadcasting about how bad the air was to breathe. I wondered what kind of conditions food could be grown in and how fresh could the garlic really be? Not very as it turns out.
So, I decided, right there and then, to start growing my own at home, and boy, if you have never had truly “fresh” garlic you are missing out! It is now a family favorite.
Unlike most crops, garlic is planted in the fall, traditionally around Halloween and before the ground starts to freeze. There are many different varieties each with its own unique flavor and desired heat/sweetness and fall into two different categories: Hard-neck, usually grown in Northern climates and soft-neck varieties that are better suited for regions with milder winters. In all reality, I have grown both types in Zone 5b and they have both produced equally very well.
Hard-neck varieties tend to have a stronger spicy garlicy flavor than do soft-neck types. Hard-necks have fewer, but larger, cloves, and soft-necks typically keep longer if they are stored properly in a cool dry environment.
Hard-neck garlics have a central stem inside the clove that grows the curly-que shaped flower stalk, called the scape. The scape is removed from the plant, once you see it growing, so the plant can focus its energy growing the bulb rather than growing the flower. If you leave the scape on your bulb will be about 50% smaller, but you will have a beautiful “flower” towering about 4-5 feet tall. The seed pod (flower) contains many small bulbils that if planted will grow into a garlic plant, but it will take 2-3 years to reach usable size. The harvested scape is very flavorful and can used in stir-fry’s, pickles and pesto.
Garlic Scape Pesto
1 pound of fresh tender garlic scapes, cut in 2” pieces
1 ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese
1 cup olive oil
½ cup seeds (pine nut, sunflower, cashew or your favorite type), optional
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients into a food processor and process until well blended and chopped.
Serve as a pasta topping, as a dip or bread spread. Leftovers (if any!) can be refrigerated for a couple of days, or frozen in an airtight container for a couple of months.
To plant your garlic, it is better to purchase some bulbs from a reputable, organic garlic/seed supplier like Fruition Seeds out of NY. Local store-bought garlic, even though it may be organic, usually does not yield a good crop and may not even grow at all. The initial investment may be more than you want to spend, but you only need to purchase organic garlic bulbs once, because from then on you will keep the largest of your bulbs for the next year’s plantings.
Keep the garlic whole until you are ready to plant. Prepare your garden beds. I like to plant my garlic on the edges of my garden beds, this helps to keep critters and pests out of my garden beds come spring. Add fresh compost, worm castings and/or organic fertilizer to your beds, mix in well. Separate the garlic cloves, and plant according to the seed company’s recommended spacing and depth (around 4”-6” deep), it may vary depending on the size of the garlic; blunt end down, pointy side up. Water well, cover with a layer of mulch, straw or shredded leaves and leave alone. You may see the green garlic shoots come up before winter sets in, that is ok, just add some more mulch to cover the green part.
When spring arrives, you will notice the garlic coming to life, removing or pulling back the mulch will help to heat up the garden bed and get the garlic growing faster. Once you see the scapes, if you are growing hard-necks, remove it to get larger bulbs. It is always fun to let one grow; they are pretty and may help to attract some pollinators to your garden.
It is time to harvest your garlic when several of the bottom leaves turn brown. The time is usually around the Fourth of July or the following couple of weeks. Gently dig (do not pull) one up and see if it is fully developed, if not leave the rest in the ground for a few more weeks or so.
The easiest way to harvest is to use a digging fork to pry up the bulbs, shake off the soil and let sit (cure) for several days to dry the paper skins. If it is going to rain, you will want to keep them in a warm dry place.
After curing remove the roots and all of the soil, store in a mesh bag, clean stocking or do as I do, braid them. YouTube has a lot of how to braid garlic videos, that’s how I learned. To keep garlic, hang in a cool dry dark place. Check your storage often, remove any blemished garlic, and use hardneck varieties first. As stated before, keep your largest bulbs for next year’s seed stock.
Enjoy, you will be glad you grew your own!