It is that time of year to plant my garlic beds. Many Southern gardeners don't bother with it but I am one that loves it. The garlic is much more flavorful than what you buy in grocery stores and you can be assured it is organic.
I have two containers that I plan on cleaning and degrassing. I want to plant my garlic around my garden space to deter insects as well. Garlic is useful against Japanese beetles and aphids. I love to have it planted throughout my garden area.
Time to plant:
In my region (Southern - North Carolina) you can plant anytime between Mid October to the first of the year and some have even planted later. October-planted garlic grows a strong root system during our mild autumn, so it is ready to grow rapidly in the spring.
I want to get a good start. Growing conditions are the same for all varieties. Garlic requires a cold period for the roots to develop before the tops emerge in early spring, so try to plant it before the end of the year. Plant individual cloves (pointy ends up) in deep, rich, loamy, well-drained soil, in full sun. Plant them two inches deep and five inches apart. If you are planting in a container, make sure the container is from 10 to 16 inches deep, the deeper the better. You should plant the garlic further apart as well. About 10 inches apart should be adequate and make sure it drains well. Excellent drainage is essential, so if your garden soil is questionable, grow garlic in containers.
To prevent premature sprouting, apply a layer of composted mulch or straw after planting whether you are planting in the garden or a container.
If you plant garlic directly in your garden, be sure to move the location each year. Garlic is subject to diseases that build up in the soil, so rotation is a must.
You may want to purchase seed garlic cloves from mail order and online seed companies or get them from you local garden center. I plan on getting some organic garlic from the grocery store. If you want to try planting grocery store garlic, make sure to use organically grown bulbs rather than the packaged brands. Supermarket garlic is sometimes sprayed with a growth inhibitor to prevent sprouting.
Sativum or softneck garlic is the kind usually sold in grocery stores and the best choice for Southern gardens. Ophio or hardneck garlic grows best in northern climates and requires cutting the central stem (scape) before it flowers to achieve well-formed bulbs below ground. So softnecks are easier to grow.
The softneck varieties Susanville and California Early adapt to a wide range of soils. Also, varieties that include Silverskin, Italian or Creole in the name are good candidates for Southern gardens. Hardneck varieties that are worth a try are Georgian Crystal and Italian Easy Peel.
A pound of garlic cloves usually yields about ten pounds of bulbs. So depending on how much space you have you can determine how much you will need.
Garlic is a very low maintenance crop. When the weather warms up, pull the mulch away from the plants in the garden, and remove it from containers. I leave my garlic in the containers that I have as they are quite large and I hope to have an early crop in May or June.
Provide an inch of water weekly, but wait until green tops emerge in spring before gently working an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen into the soil around the plants.
To harvest, wait until at least half of the green leaves die back, dig the plants gently so the tops remain intact, tie bunches together loosely and hang to dry in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight.
Using Garlic in your cooking:
Varieties vary in pungency, but all small garlic will have that wonderful flavor. Then, there’s elephant garlic, which isn’t a true garlic but is related to leeks. Despite the size – heads are two or three times as large as conventional garlic – it’s actually milder in flavor. This is the garlic for people who don’t like garlic, since it’s mild and sweet.
Do not refrigerate garlic and don’t purchase garlic that has been refrigerated – it will rot. Garlic should be stored in an open or ventilated container in a cool, dark place.
Avoid soft or shriveled cloves. Keep the heads and papery covering intact until you need a clove or two, then peel. Most recipes require peeling the garlic before cooking with it. But if you’re cooking the cloves whole, as when roasting a whole head of garlic, it’s not necessary.
Over-browning chopped or sliced garlic gives it a bitter flavor that permeates the entire dish you use it in. It takes no more than a minute on medium-high heat for chopped garlic to be lightly brown. Stop there, or just cook the garlic until it’s soft.
In my view, there are few dishes that can’t be improved by a bit of garlic. So, if a little is good, a lot must be great. Our family loves garlic so I use it regularly and don't mind the stronger garlic's.
If my crop turns out as expected, I will be canning some crushed garlic to see how it turns out. Thus far I have frozen it and put it in the freezer which works wonderfully. Sometimes it becomes a little softened but doesn't effect the flavor at all.
More to come...