Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Praise of Garlic

There are some vegetables that taste so much better when home-grown that I would not consider growing a garden without including them. Beans, tomatoes and eggplant are a few of them. But I have recently added another vegetable to that list – garlic.

I am a true garlic lover. When I was buying it in the store, I would never buy one head or bulb at a time like most shoppers; I purchased a bag of 3 or more heads and knew that I would be buying more soon. I loved the taste of those white heads that were piled up in the produce section of the grocery store – but no longer.

Now I grew my own garlic. I will only buy those bland heads of garlic from the store when I run out of my home-grow varieties. The difference in taste is indescribable.
Garlic comes in two basic types, hardneck and softneck. In hardneck garlic, the cloves grow in a circle around a woody central stem. The cloves tend to be large and do not store quite as long as softneck varieties. Softneck garlics produce more cloves per head but they tend to be smaller. Softneck varieties are what you want to grow if you are looking to make garlic braids.

Both types of garlic are easy to grow. While you can find garlic in the garden centers in the spring, the best time to plant is in the fall. More and more seed companies are offering garlic for fall planting or you can plant some of the garlic that you might find at your local farmers market. Just do not try planting the cloves you find in the store; often they are treated with a growth inhibitor. I plant mine here in south-central PA in the middle of October. I simply break the heads into cloves and plant them about 4-6 inches apart and about 2 or 3 inches deep. Garlic will grow just about anywhere as long as the soil does not get waterlogged in the winter. The cloves will start to grow in the fall and then take off in the spring.

Garlic is ready to harvest when there are only 3 or 4 green leaves left on the plant. Each of the leaves represents one layer of covering over the bulb. If you wait until all of the leaves are brown, you might find that the head has no wrapping on it, the cloves are exposed to the soil and the garlic will not store well.
After harvesting, garlic needs to spend 2-3 weeks in a shaded and well ventilated place to cure. Once this has happened, you can trim off the tops, cut off the roots and store the heads in a cool, dry place.

The thing that amazes me is how each variety of garlic has its own unique taste. I have made it my mission in life to try as many of them as possible! So each year, I plant one variety that I know grows well and tastes good and then I order a new variety to try. I have yet to be disappointed by any of them.
It might be one of the newer vegetables in my garden but garlic is one that I will always grow.

About the Author
Marc Baase is a contributing writer for Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC the exclusive home for the Seeds of the Month Club.

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