Planting Garlic

Cloves of Garlic

Pungent, rich, flavourful garlic.  One little clove can turn a sauce from mundane and boring to tasty and delicious.  Not only is it tasty it’s packed full of allicin and diallyl sulphides.  Two big words that I don’t have room here to explain but generally have to do with health benefits.

Late September and October is the perfect time to plant garlic.  It’s a cool weather crop and is best planted now rather than the spring because it needs the colder fall temperatures to encourage root growth.  That is why you shouldn’t keep garlic in the fridge – it will start to sprout!

Pick a sunny, well-drained site with soft, pliable soil to plant your cloves.  I do mine in my raised vegetable garden.  I add a heap of compost and some finely shredded leaves, mix it all about then level it in preparation for planting.

Just as you’re ready to plant gently separate the cloves from each other.  Each clove should come away with part of the basal plate where the roots grow.  Plant each clove, pointed end facing up, about eight inches apart and two inches deep.

Garlic requires even watering during its growing cycle then basically no watering the last month before harvest except for whatever Mother Nature brings upon us.  As for fertilizer, I add nitrogen-rich mulch (Sea Soil) to the bed in early spring when the tops start to shoot out of the ground and I may throw down some organic based vegetable fertilizer when I do the other vegetables but that’s about it.  You shouldn’t fertilize at all after May as the bulbs are maturing underground and you don’t want to encourage any more top growth.

Speaking of top growth, garlic produces the most wonderful garden art.  Hard necked varieties, which are the most common, send up a central stalk, which makes one or two loop de loops and then comes to a point where the ‘flower’ forms.  This loopy top is called the scape and is delicious cut up and thrown in a stir-fry or steamed like asparagus.  I always toss one or two in when I cook up new potatoes in foil on the bar-be-que with some fresh herbs. It has a nice, mild garlic flavour.  Oh, my mouth is watering now.

If you don’t care to cook the scapes it is advisable to remove them anyway because they will use up a lot of the plant’s energy producing the flower (which isn’t really a flower) instead of the bulb below.  If you leave them they form little bulbs, called bulbils, which fall to the ground and grow next season…lots of them.  Trust me, I know from experience.  I use these mini bulbs in my cooking through the summer.  I suppose if I separated them and spaced them out better they would eventually form harvestable sized bulbs but in the meantime they are a quick garlic fix for the stir-fry.

I stop watering my garlic bed about the beginning of summer and by mid to late summer the lower leaves begin to turn yellow.  That is the time to gently push the soil away and see what you’ve created. I pull all mine up at once when there isn’t any rain on the horizon, brush off the dirt and allow them to dry out.  The best way is to hang them in bunches in an airy, dry shed, out of direct sun. Once cured (about two weeks), I store the garlic bulbs in the garage until needed.

Plant your garlic now so that by next summer you’ll be all set to make delicious sauces, pickled garlic, roasted garlic and garlic braids.  If you haven’t tried growing garlic yet…well, then you might be in trouble when Halloween rolls around and the vampires are about.  Garlic bulbs are available at Cultivate now.

Shirley Eppler

October 2008