By Kim Robson:
Garlic is a natural immune system powerhouse that fights against bacteria, viruses and fungi. A vegetable from the Allium family, garlic is an excellent source of Vitamin B6, as well as other vitamins and minerals including Manganese, Selenium, Vitamin C and Allicin (an anti-oxidant). Consuming raw fresh garlic is excellent for fighting off infections including the common cold. Eating garlic regularly can reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol, and may help prevent cancer. A 2006 study looked at cancer rates, and garlic and onion consumption in southern European populations, and found a lower risk of some common cancers.
Why Grow Your Own?
Growing garlic indoors or outdoors is a cinch. And you know where your garlic is being grown and with what nutrients. By growing your own garlic, you’ll not only be saving money, but also your health and the environment. Garlic is ideal for growing indoors because it grows in small, space-saving bulbs. It also does very well in container gardens or raised beds. Garlic loves sunlight, so a windowsill planter is a great space-saving option.
What Type of Garlic Should I Grow?
In North America, you’ll find two common types:
Hardneck Garlics sprout a “scape” (a long stem which grows a flower at the end) through the center of the bulb. The flower at the end of the scape can be cut off and replanted. The scape is also edible. Hardneck garlic likes colder climates, and the scapes will bloom in early summer. Hardneck Garlic is considered by aficionados to have a richer, spicier, more “garlicky” taste.
Softneck Garlics don’t grow a scape. This type likes warmer regions with mild winters. This variety is best for making garlic braids. The skin is softer and harder to peel than hardneck garlic.
Where To Grow?
Garlic loves sunlight, so if you’re growing indoors, a windowsill works best. If growing outdoors, well-drained fertile soil with a neutral pH (6.5 -7) is ideal. If your soil is acidic, you can make it more alkaline by mixing in a small amount of wood ash. Mix in 1 inch of compost to add fertility to your soil, and top with organic mulch.
If using containers, they should be at least 12 inches deep to make space for the roots, and bulbs should be spaced about 6-8 inches apart. Proper drainage is important. Pick a container with plenty of drainage holes, and tip out the drainage tray if necessary. Garlic doesn’t need high humidity, so a greenhouse cover is not required.
When To Grow?
Plant in autumn and harvest midsummer. You can usually pick the scapes in early summer. Once you have reaped the bulb, you will need to replant, as you will have harvested the whole plant.
Planting a clove is really the easiest way to go. Push the cloves into the soil about 4 inches deep and 8 inches apart, and cover with organic mulch. Plant the cloves with the pointy end up.
Garlic prefers a fairly dry environment, so give them a light spray of water occasionally, once a week or so. The soil should remain fairly dry. Stop watering a few weeks before harvest time.
When To Harvest
Your garlic should be ready to harvest around midsummer, when about a third of the leaves have begun to brown and wither, and the soil is dry. Loosen the soil with your hands or a digging fork, and gently pull the plants up out of the soil. Be gentle, as you don’t want to bruise or damage the delicate skin.
Once you harvest your garlic plant, you can eat it right away, but be sure to save any scapes you’d like to replant. If you cure your garlic for long-term storage, you can still replant entire bulbs in the fall.
Curing the garlic dries it for later use or to keep the bulbs for replanting in the fall. Curing your garlic allows the energy and minerals from the leaves to move into the bulbs as they dry.
Lay your harvested plants out in the open to dry in a warm airy spot with shelter from rain and direct sunlight. Young garlic bulbs are susceptible to sunburn. Leave the plants to dry for about a week, then brush off excess soil, and trim the roots so they’re about an inch long. Do not wash the bulbs. Leave them to dry for at least another week and up to a month if the weather is humid. At this point, you can trim off the leaves (or, for softneck varieties, braid them). Don’t remove the leaves during curing, as the bulbs draw energy and nutrients away from the leaves as they dry. The leaves also protect the bulb from fungi and other bacteria during curing.
Finally, dust off any remaining dirt, and trim the leaves and roots to approx. ¼ to a ½ inch long. Peel off the excess skin until you have pure white (or red) bulbs. The largest and best-looking bulbs should be set aside for replanting in the fall.
As mentioned, softneck garlic can be braided together and hung up, rustic-style, in the kitchen. Or you can store your bulbs in hanging mesh bags, which are soft (preventing bruising the delicate skin), and breathable (keeping garlic dry, and preventing mold and sprouting). Personally, I prefer an unglazed terra-cotta garlic keeper, which looks smart and also promotes air circulation.