Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Growing Garlic: It's Easy!

I took advantage of the warm, sunny afternoon--and dry soil--to plant my annual garlic supply. Yes, for several years I have grown all of the garlic my family eats. My husband is Italian, so that is not a small amount!

It's really not that difficult. I spent not more than an hour one afternoon picking out the largest cloves from the largest heads of this year's harvest. This afternoon, I spent another hour hoeing a small patch and planting 80-90 cloves. I used a 4-inch bulb planter to make individual holes. These cloves are planted 3 inches deep and 4-5 inches apart.

The garlic will sprout this fall, grow a little, and then wait dormantly over the winter, like winter wheat. When spring comes, it will start growing again. In late May, the garlic will put up stems to be cut off before they flower (cut them just as they are starting to curl, perhaps even before, and cut below 2-3 sets of leaves). These are called garlic scapes and are delicious. Think of them as garlic-flavored green onions and use them in a similar manner.

In early July, when most, but not all, of the leaves are brown, the garlic is ready to harvest. I loosen the dirt with a shovel and dig them up. Then I put them upside down in a box on my un-airconditioned back porch to dry. After 2-3 weeks, I cut off the stems and roots and put them in a box in a dark place in my basement. They come up briefly to be sorted for seed, and then they spend the rest of the winter, spring, and summer in the basement until they are eaten. The garlic heads keep until summer (or longer), when the next harvest is ready.

I'm still experimenting with the exact timing of the planting. Today might, in fact, have been a little late. Over time, my garlic heads and the individual cloves seem to be getting smaller. I wonder if I don't plant them early enough, so they don't get a good head start on their fall growing. One year I didn't get them in until the second week of November. They grew, and I got enough of a crop to eat, but that was definitely too late.

How did I get started growing garlic? It was originally supposed to be a one-season project to grow out and save my sister-in-law's garlic seed while she and my brother spent a year in Japan on his sabbatical. Four years later, they are still in Japan, and I have come to enjoy growing garlic.

I grow my garlic for the pleasure and because this variety has a really good flavor. However, it is neat to think that we haven't spent a penny on garlic (a staple in our kitchen) for four years!

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