Garden, Plant, Cook!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Plant Garlic Now and Harvest Great Flavor In The Spring!

Dear Folks,

While places like Gilroy, California and even our own Verde Valley area of Arizona produce lots of garlic, most of the garlic you purchase in the supermarket is from China or other areas of Asia. Why not grow your own? And, become a locavore in your neighborhood. All the information below pertains to 'hardneck' variety garlic, the most common kind found in stores.

For several years I have been planting and harvesting ‘green garlic' aka garlic scallions. It is simple, something anyone can do, and you are able to plant successively for a continuous harvest from fall through early summer. More on the green garlic below. Last fall, however, I really wanted to try growing the garlic to bulb or "head" stage for harvesting my own.

Green Garlic vs. Bulb Garlic.

Both types of garden growing are begun the same way. Beginning October 1st and through about November 15th you can plant garlic cloves for either green garlic or bulb garlic. You break open a bulb/head of garlic separating the individual cloves. Do not peel them. (Purchase garlic at the grocery or order from a supplier I like Ronnigers.)

Plant 2 inches deep, flat side down, in rows or alternate zig-zag spacing approximately 4-6 inches apart, in rich, well-draining soil in full sun or an area where they will get plenty of sunlight — at least 6-8 hours a day.

Water regularly, but do not over-water, and keep the bed weed-free. For green garlic, plant however many cloves you might use in a week or two, every couple of weeks successively. When the tops are 8+ inches high and you can feel that the clove has swollen a bit, it is time to harvest and enjoy. Use the whole clove and top as you would a scallion for a milder garlic flavor than the dried clove. Delicious!

Now for growing the full bulb/head garlic you will not be harvesting until spring because the plant needs to entire cold time of the winter months to form the full bulb Here is what you are seeing and looking for.

Along around late March or into the middle of April (depending on weather) you will see a flower stalk rise out of the center of the leaves — the garlic growth begins with the originally planted clove producing baby cloves attached to and surrounding the original clove, and out of each new baby clove rises a single garlic leaf - grass like.

The flower stalk, called a ‘scape,' curls as it grows with an immature flower ‘bulb' near the top ending in a point. The curling of the scape stalk is interesting to see. When the flower portion of the stalk is just about even with or just a tiny bit taller than the leaves, you need to cut it off near the base of the stalk — and eat it! Yes, the scape is fully edible like the green garlic and is considered a gourmet delicacy.

The purpose, though, for cutting the scape off is the encourage the final bulb to be a tight circle of cloves.

You will now look for the first few leaves (not all of them) of each plant to begin to yellow. It is now time to harvest your brand new garlic bulb.

Gently dig up, softly brush off as much of the dirt as you can without damaging the ‘wrappers' on the garlic. If you need to you can rise them off to get the rest of the dirt off.

You are not ready yet to use the garlic, it must be air dried completely for storage.

In the valley our nice dry spring air is perfect for this. Hang in the shade (a little sun won't hurt it) on the patio, in a shed or garage where there is no chance of it getting rained on, and has excellent air circulation. You can also lay them out on drying screens. You can braid several together for one of those fancy garlic braids (they need to be fresh for braiding). It may take a couple of weeks for it to be dry enough for use and storage.

After it is dried you can cut the roots and stems off. If you made a nice braid you can just hang that in your kitchen for handy access to a bulb when you need one.

If you can store garlic at 55 degrees and it will keep for a very long time without sprouting. If you don't have that cold of a shed or like structure, they can be stored in the crisper of your refrigerator — in cardboard — not touching any other foods. For use remove only as much as you will be needing within a week or two, or the cloves will start sprouting in the warmer kitchen air.

One last thing — save one or more of the heads and store in the crisper (as noted above) until planting time next fall and repeat your garlic growing cycle of flavor!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady