Thursday, September 20, 2012
It’s almost time to plant garlic! Even if you aren’t much of a gardener — even if you don’t have a garden — you should stick some garlic cloves in dirt. It takes almost no effort and the potential rewards are gratifying.
To me, it’s a meditative pleasure to begin so many meals with aromatic garlic grown just steps away from my kitchen. Even if dinner is just spaghetti tossed with garlic and olive oil, that homegrown garlic makes it mine.
Growing garlic is simple and satisfying for kids too: Those bulbs under the ground are a promise of spring’s bounty.
Tuck some cloves into the ground this fall and by next summer you'll be cooking with your own freshly harvested garlic. Enjoy the spring garlic and scapes, but be sure to leave plenty to harvest later so you can enjoy them well into winter.
Like most things, there's an easy way and a hard way. The easiest way: Separate some nice, big cloves from an ordinary garlic bulb from your market. Poke them an inch or two into the ground, pointy end up, and keep them 4 to 6 inches apart. Cover with some mulch, such as fall leaves, and ignore until spring.
That’s pretty much what I do, though I do order bulbs so I can be sure exactly what I’m planting. It's good to know whether you’re planting hardneck or softneck garlic. Hardneck garlic is generally better for colder climates and provides the added bonus of garlic scapes in spring. Softneck garlic typically lasts longer in storage and can be woven into a pretty braid. (I’m planting both.)
If you’re really fussy, you can inoculate the cloves before planting and fertilize in the spring ... I don’t bother. They seem to do fine in their own, even in the heavy clay soil here.
In early summer I watch for leaves turning brown. When just a few green leaves are left, I gently dig the bulbs out of the dirt, carefully shake off as much soil as I can, and set them on newspaper in a single layer, out of the sun, so they can cure for storage.
After a few days, you might want to brush more dirt off the drying bulbs. Be careful not to bruise them. I was overly aggressive last year and damaged quite a few, so this year I skipped this extra cleaning. My bulbs look a little grubby, but they taste great.
I aim for planting my garlic the first two weeks of October or so, but you should check advice specific to your part of the world.
For more detailed guidance, try these simple tips from the Daily Green. Apartment Therapy offers a primer on growing garlic in a container.
If you want to order bulbs for planting, do it now! I like Territorial Seed Company (I ordered their softneck/hardneck combo) and John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds.