Friday, October 21, 2011

Planting the Incredible Edible Garlic

Newly sprouted garlic.
Its that exciting time of year again when everyone starts planting garlic.  Well, everyone should be planting garlic anyway (Just my opinion).  Garlic is one of those love it or hate it foods.  And I absolutely love nearly everything about it, planting it, growing it, harvesting it, and eating it.  Garlic is one of the most ancient cultivated crops around and has persisted in gardens for over 6,000 years.  Amazing!  I am sure one of the reasons it has persisted that long is its interesting flavor as well as the fact that it is easy to grow and is calorie packed.  While calorie may not be in the lime light today, for thousands of years farmers worked hard to grow calorie efficient crops to sustain themselves and their families.  And garlic packs 42 calories per ounce, far more then the average of 10 or so calories per ounce most garden crops produce.  Ancient Egyptians ate so much garlic that it was considered a dietary staple.  Ease of growing, ease of storage, and dense calories are all likely reasons it became a staple rather than just a seasoning.  Just a guess, but the strong odor is likely the reason garlic is utilized more as a seasoning and less as a staple today.  Some regions, especially in the Mediterranean still however utilize garlic as a staple today.  The astonishing health benefits of garlic have been known for thousands of years.  In-fact, during the middle ages garlic was known as a cure-all.  Yes, many, but not all, of these are real benefits and have been verified scientifically.  In our lab we have shown how garlic is an extremely strong antibiotic, far stronger than many if not most modern antibiotics.  A clove of garlic a day may really keep the doctor away...

If you look in the grocery store you may only know of one or two different varieties of garlic.  This is far from the truth, in-fact, their are hundreds of different types of garlic that have been cultivated and developed all over the world.  Each of these specialty garlics has its own soil preference, growth habits, colors, and flavors.  Their is an amazing diversity of garlic flavors ranging anywhere from mild to spicy, earthy to elegant, weak to strong, bitter to and yes, some even claim sweet.  I once tasted a so called sweet garlic and I have to say, there was nothing sweet about it.  But even so, there is a garlic perfect for you out their somewhere.  I have found many.  Garlic is a great food for everyone, both high and low alike.

The Garlic Man
Several years ago I came across the Garlic Man on the internet.  I had grown garlic for many years but the information on his website was encyclopedic and inspired me to grow more garlic.  His website offers growing, health, and much more information on garlic as well as selling more varieties of garlic than I ever imagined.  I ordered a mixed warm climate adapted package of garlic varieties and found a few that grew extremely well here in the Sonoran Desert.  He also offers packages of garlic for other climate areas as well as for taste.  I find the U-Tube video on the Garlic Man below to be inspiring.  Bob Anderson truly has earned the title of the Garlic Man.  Here is his Website:
Grow your own garlic
The two varieties of garlic I have found that grow best in the Sonoran desert are Sonoran (big surprise!) and California Early.  Sonoran grows especially well here and forms very large beautiful heads with many large cloves.  California Early also does extremely well but the heads and cloves are not quite as big.  I have tried probably ten other types, and some do work but none really compare to these two.  Other gardeners in the Arizona desert may have different results though.  If you want to grow garlic know this: it is extremely easy!  Just plant it at the right time of year in decent soil, water as needed but not much, and wait a long, long time.  You can order garlic cloves from a seed company or you can just buy a head of garlic from the grocery store.  They will work pretty much the same.  Here are some steps to follow.
Sonoran garlic cloves.  Note, the flat side is always planted downwards in the soil and the pointed side upwards.
Step by step growing garlic
1. Get soil ready for planting.  Garlic is not particularly picky about soil type.  It does however prefer loose, well drained soil.  The soil needs to be rock free and cannot be waterlogged though.  Mixing in compost also helps a lot.  You can also grow garlic in a pot ether in or outdoors.

2. Plant at the right time of year.  In mild winter areas where garlic tops will not be killed by frost the beginning of October through mid-November works well.  The closer to the beginning of October though the better.  In cold winter areas where frost will kill back tops plant later in October up to a few weeks before the ground freezes.  In cold areas it is important not to plant the garlic too early, causing it to sprout and then die back.  Dying back wastes valuable energy stored in the clove and can reduce the overall size of the garlic head next summer.

3. Soak garlic cloves overnight in water.  This is not an essential step, but will greatly speed the germination and establishment of your garlic plant.  Garlic that is not soaked often will take a few weeks to sprout, but with soaked garlic I have seen it sprout in as little as three days.  This is more important in southern areas with mild winters being you want them to sprout as soon as possible.
Sprouting garlic cloves after soaking.  Rarely do cloves sprout this fast, but these apparently were just ready to go.
4. Plant your clove about two inches deep with the pointed end up.  The flat side should be down.

5. Water as needed, but remember, garlic is not a water hog.

6. As the garlic grows remove any flower like stalks.  This will cause the plant to put more energy into growing healthy bulbs.  Also, you can eat garlic leaves chopped-up in salad of in stir-fry.

7. When leaves start dying back in the spring to early summer the garlic is ready to harvest.  Simply use a pitchfork or shovel and dig up the heads.

8.  Remove the dirt from the garlic heads and leave the stalks attached.  Dry the garlic in a warm dry location.  Once all of the leaves are crispy brown the garlic is ready to eat.

Remember, if you don't succeed the first time at growing garlic, try again and try something slightly different.  Different soil, planting method, type of garlic, planting time and so on.  Also, read what the Garlic Man has to say about growing garlic and try some of it out.  I don't doubt, you will eventually succeed.

Well, I hope some of this was interesting and helpful.

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