Growing Garlic

March Garlic

The garlic is up and so are the crocuses and daffodils. I planted this garlic last fall after gathering varieties from several local growers. Oftentimes using seed garlic from local sources will yield a better head of garlic because the garlic has adapted to local climate. Garlic is a bulb. You plant one bulb and dig it up months later to find a lot of bulblets, or in this case, cloves. Think tulips, gladiolas, daffodils. After planting in the fall, I mulched with straw to suppress weeds and to give the bulbs some protection from harsh winter conditions (which Wisconsin did not experience this year).

Later this spring the garlic will develop scapes, curly green tops that can be used just like the bulbs in cooking. The scapes are a little milder in flavor than the actual garlic bulbs. Cutting off the scapes is important not just because they are tasty, but also because the scape is where the flower of the plant will develop. If that flower is allowed to bloom, the plant’s energy is redirected away from the garlic roots up toward that flower and this results in a much smaller head.

After I harvest this year’s garlic, I will set aside most of it for use as seed in the fall. Rather than buy seed to plant every fall, I’d rather produce my own seed. This not only saves me some money, but allows me to select for specific characteristics. I can choose to save seed for the best tasting, biggest or best storing garlic. Flavor ranges from mild and smooth to spicy with some bite. Once the garlic is out of the ground, it needs to be topped to remove plant material that would otherwise suck up moisture. I compost the tops or use them as a natural insecticide. Then the heads need to be given plenty of ventilation as the skins are drying. This is called curing. Curing will help make the head store better.

Garlic has many uses. It tastes great, is really good for your health and can be used to deter pests in the garden. Grown on the edge of the garden, it deters large pests like deer and rabbits. Used as part of an insecticidal spray, it will control aphids and other bugs. Eating garlic may deter mosquitoes. And don’t forget- it also keeps away vampires! For more information pick up Ron Engeland’s book Growing Great Garlic or visit the University of Minnesota Extension’s garlic webpage. There are several cookbooks dedicated to this delicious vegetable and many home remedy books mention garlic for health.

Do you love garlic? What is your favorite variety? How do you like to cook it? Have you ever grown it?

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Growing Garlic

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