By Michelle Rauch
For the second summer in a row my humble backyard garden has yielded less than a bountiful crop. The seemingly endless stream of showers the last several weeks of summer did little more than allow weeds to take root and overtake the garden, preventing me from getting outdoors to tend to it. With that disappointment I have decided it’s time to give garlic a try so I have something to look forward to harvesting next year.
From everything I have read and been told by those who have grown garlic, it doesn’t get much easier. That doesn’t come as a surprise since it’s in the onion family and onions have proven to be about as low maintenance as you can get. What excites me about the prospect of growing my own fresh garlic is planting it now and having something to look forward to all winter. Just as my spring garden is planted, it will be about time to harvest the garlic. It starts with getting the right bulbs and they don’t come from the grocery. Head to your local feed store or buy from a reputable seed company.
Choose a well drained, sunny spot to plant your cloves. Place them two inches deep and four inches apart with the pointed side facing up. After you cover them with soil, you can virtually walk away for the winter and wait. That’s a benefit of being frost tolerant. By mid May and early June the plants will require deep watering every three to five days. Yellowing tops that are falling over are your visual cue that it’s time to harvest. My gardening friends found success harvesting when the leaves on the bottom were starting to brown. Care should be taken when harvesting garlic. Carefully dig around the bulb to loosen the soil. If you try to simply yank them up out of the ground like an onion you will risk tearing the leaves off the bulb. After harvesting, it’s recommended you set it aside in a shady spot outdoors to cure for two weeks. Hanging a braided garlic is popular to ensure adequate air circulation. It also adds a decorative accent that is reminiscent of a rustic Italian kitchen, not to mention the added benefit of keeping vampires at bay in the meantime.
Once the wrappers have a papery texture and the roots have dried they are ready to store. They will keep up to three months. If you live in an apartment or condo you can grow garlic, too, on your patio/balcony in a pot. All you need is a pot that is at least eight inches deep and wide. I just planted my garlic, but according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac you can plant in the spring. Your best bet for a bigger, better, packed with a flavor punch bulb will come with the fall planting.
Knowing my garlic will be out in the yard growing all winter has me excited. It’s the simpler things in life that please me the older I get. As with all my other garden goodies, I expect homegrown garlic is going to be so much tastier than store bought. I’m sure I will kick myself for not adding it to my garden sooner. I have always been a fan of garlic. In addition to the burst of flavor it adds to dishes, it has a long history as a home remedy in folk medicine. There’s virtually nothing not to like about garlic, other than the bad breath, but a snip of parsley from your garden will cure that.