Grow your own Garlic

team-voyas-vIiye0QDryo-unsplash.jpgHopefully you had a chance to check out Edy’s great post about cover cropping and whether certain fall crops (onions, garlic and potatoes) are right for you.  Even though it’s in the ground for a long time and is relatively low yield compared to other crops, I’m here to make an impassioned plea for growing your own garlic.

If you’ll indulge me, I’ll share a little story with you.  A (sort of boring) story about garlic.  I grew up about as far from agriculture as possible.  Living in Houston, Texas surrounded by concrete and lawns, I never gave any thought to where my food actually came from.

When I was in high school, my mom was living abroad and I went to visit her.  While there, we ate a lot of amazing roasted garlic.  I was really into eating this garlic and it occurred to me literally for the first time ever that someone had to grow it.  I decided that I wanted to grow my own garlic.  I joked around about becoming a garlic farmer.  (Little did I know what my future would hold..)

Years later in my early 20’s, I moved into a rental with a garden space and decided to give it a go.  It was so easy!  You just pop a clove in the ground and there you go!  Needless to say, my garlic crop was pretty tiny and terrible.  But I loved it.  I was incredibly proud of my miniscule garlic.  I gave it as special presents to friends (who graciously accepted my tiny produce and oohed and ahhed over it).  I spent time peeling the teensy cloves and feeling very self satisfied.

Fast forward more time.  I now actually know how to grow garlic.  And it’s still easy, but the yield is way better if you give it some love.   And water.  And fertility.   But the point is, even if you do nothing, garlic will magically multiply and one clove will become a whole head!

There are two main types of garlic:

Hardneck– has a hard stem in the middle, bigger cloves and doesn’t store as well.  Flavor connoisseurs say that these types are more complex.  These do better with a longer cool season and produce scapes (flower stalks) in the spring.  I’ve had good luck with a variety called “Music.”

Softneck– stores longer, has more cloves that are usually smaller, good for braiding.  These do better in milder climates.  I’ve tried “Inchellum Red” and “California Early.”

I’ve had success growing both types here.  Hardnecks give a bumper crop of yummy garlic scapes in the spring which is a nice bonus, and I’ve really enjoyed braiding softneck garlic and hanging it in my house or giving it as gifts.

The main things to remember when growing garlic are that it likes fertility and doesn’t want to compete with weeds.  If you imagine the root system of a garlic plant, it is pretty shallow so can be outcompeted easily.  Because of this, many people mulch them heavily after planting to keep weed pressure down.  In February/March or so, I side dress (meaning put a little fertilizer down around each plant) with bloodmeal or fish emulsion to give the garlic a shot of nitrogen as it’s growing.

As usual, Peaceful Valley has a lovely short video that walks you through the whole process.

And as Edy mentioned, garlic is a long season crop so the real estate you give it will be in use from now through mid summer.  Because of its pungency, garlic is not interesting to deer, so you could experiment with planting it outside your regular garden zone.

Garlic is great kitchen medicine- that same pungency that keeps the deer at bay is what gives it antimicrobial properties.  Feeling sickness coming on?  Smash up some garlic, let is sit for 10 minutes and then roll it up in honey and swallow it like a little pill.  And if it’s your own garlic, that’s pretty exciting!

Till next time, eat more garlic.